For the better part of my professional career, I have focused on helping people explore behavior applications that enrich their lives. Success has been measured and has provided me with a great deal of personal acceptance and satisfaction.

What is difficult about personal satisfaction is the disdain it appears to generate in those who do not possess the same satisfaction in their own endeavors.

Here is an exchange surrounding the need to include behavior safety as a major aspect of industrial safety programs. In this written debate, the dissenter called behavior safety a "fad" and stated "the fact that most behavior is not cognitive."

"Really?" I responded. "Do most people make mistakes while they are sleeping?" When challenged on this statement, I was accused of presenting psychobabble.

Furthermore, after being told, "You can't train people to avoid all mistakes," I responded with, "I agree. But we can train them to evaluate how they are thinking, raise their awareness from automatic to focused (attentive, active thinking), and allow them to actively decide what actions are safest or best to take."

The dissenter dissented: "No, we can't."

Then, we progressed to the concept of asking a question to raise awareness.

"Sure, we can train people to ask a question prior to beginning a task," he responded. "Will they do it every time they begin one of the 12,000 tasks they have to do their job? We can change this dynamic in the short term, but to change it in the long term will stress the subject to the point of psychosis."

Wow, he got me there! Of course, I can't concede without a retort in defense of behavior safety.

Training people to prevent making mistakes is possible. Training them to not make any mistakes is impossible. There are numerous conditions that influence behavior, and the definition of paranoid thinking might be to try to think of every possible thing that could go wrong.

What about the cost and time aspect of training people to ask a question prior to beginning a task. In training, the concept of asking a question before starting a task is presented. A short demonstration to show how it works raises awareness, then employees are asked to try the concept out for themselves. Continuing to reinforce this concept over time will generate positive results.

Initial training time might encompass 10-15 minutes. Reinforcement can be accomplished daily with a minute or so reminder to use the skill. Practice time for the individual takes two to three seconds per question. The cost of the training is minimal, and the cost to the person using the skill is zero. This minimal cost in time and money compared to the cost of one mistake leading to production loss, injury or death cannot even begin to compare costwise.

Behavior safety is designed to complement safety programs. When a safety program (rules, regulations, policies) is supported with behavior safety and safety engineering, a complete alliance is formed. Addressing today's safety compliance issues, behavior safety adds these three components:

  • Involvement: All employees including management and administrative
  • Responsibility: Making safety a personal commitment
  • Achievement: Measuring results to continue a developing, successful process

Using self-coaching skills in behavior safety training advocates for acceptance and adoption of personal skills. The ultimate objective is for each individual to assume personal responsibility for his or her safe work behavior.

Policies and procedures, as well as safety engineering, are part of the higher hierarchy and respect for these controls. Often the missing ingredients are personal responsibility, involvement and behavior actions assumed by employees.

To ensure the best in safety efforts, a coordinated approach — including engineering safety, a safety program and behavior safety are needed. Bringing them all together will surely strengthen industrial safety and help manage many of the current problems.