Home / 2017 / HSE&T Corner: Supervisors should seek to understand internal, external factors that influence employee behaviors affecting safety

HSE&T Corner: Supervisors should seek to understand internal, external factors that influence employee behaviors affecting safety

By Kelli Ainsworth, Associate Editor

Telling employees what they should have done when an incident happens is not effective at changing their thinking or mindset about safety, Michael LeBlanc of Intertek said at the 2017 IADC Human Factors Conference in Galveston, Texas, on 17 October. Instead, managers should ask questions so they can get a better understanding of what employees were thinking so that thinking can be changed. Managers should also help employees to take ownership of possible solutions.

Telling employees what they should have done when an incident happens is not effective at changing their thinking or mindset about safety, Michael LeBlanc of Intertek said at the 2017 IADC Human Factors Conference in Galveston, Texas, on 17 October. Instead, managers should ask questions so they can get a better understanding of what employees were thinking so that thinking can be changed. Managers should also help employees to take ownership of possible solutions.

Performance management and feedback play a critical role in developing and instilling a safety culture within a company. Too often, however, when an incident occurs, supervisors and managers forget that behavior does not occur in a vacuum, Michael LeBlanc, Consultant Manager for Intertek, said on 17 October at the 2017 IADC Human Factors Conference in Galveston, Texas. “When we think of performance management, we have to take into account what goes into an employee’s decisions,” he said. Understanding both the internal and external factors that influence an employee’s thinking and decisions can help a supervisor learn to change how they think about and approach safety.

Both internal and external factors could influence an employee’s decision to undertake an unsafe action. External factors, like a sick family member, could cause an employee to come to work distracted and make poor decisions. Other external factors, like pressure to complete the job on time, could make that employee opt to keep working even if their head is elsewhere or if they don’t feel well. Internal factors include things like anxiety or the belief that nothing will go wrong because that employee had been tired or distracted at work before and nothing happened. Such factors can also adversely influence decisions.

When an incident does occur, managers should avoid simply telling their employee what they should have done and what they should do in the future. These are not effective ways to change the employee’s thinking and mindset about safety, he said. Instead, managers should ask questions. Questions can help the manager understand what the employee was thinking, so the thinking can be changed. At the same time, asking the employee what they can do to avoid future incidents helps them take ownership of those solutions.

Managers should also provide positive feedback when an employee is making good decisions and working safely, Mr LeBlanc said. “The more we do with positive feedback and coaching, the less we have to go to discipline,” he said. At the same time, managers should engage employees to share the thought processes and decision-making that enabled them to avoid an incident. For instance, he said, if an employee was up all night with a sick child and is now unable to work safely due to fatigue, the employee should be commended for communicating this honestly to his or her supervisor. It should even be shared with the employee’s coworkers so this type of action is passed along in the organization’s culture. “You can get the story shared and communicate lessons learned,” Mr LeBlanc said. DC

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