An injury-free workplace requires attention to three domains: the environment (including tools, equipment, and climate of the work setting), the person (including the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and personalities of the employees), and behavior (including safe and at-risk work practices, as well as interpersonal conversation). These factors are interactive, dynamic, and reciprocal. Influencing one factor eventually has impact on the other two. For example, changes in the environment have indirect effects on people's behaviors and attitudes, and behavior change usually results in attitude change and some change in the environment. Thus, to achieve and maintain an injury-free workplace, employees need to address each of these domains daily during the development, implementation, and evaluation of intervention strategies to remove environmental hazards, decrease at-risk behaviors, increase safe behaviors, and provide more user-friendly or ergonomically-sound work stations.
Such continual attention to the safety-related aspects of workplace environments, behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes requires people to go beyond the call of duty for occupational safety and health. The author calls this "actively caring"1. Research in social psychology2., applied behavior analysis3., and people-based safety4. provide principles and practical strategies for increasing a sense of interdependency and actively-caring behaviors throughout a work culture. These are reviewed in this paper, but first let's consider some common myths that can hinder progress in improving the human dynamics of injury prevention and developing the kind of actively-caring culture needed to achieve and maintain an injury-free workplace.
Almost every presentation on safety management/leadership these days includes information about psychology (e.g., people's attitudes, personality, and/or behavior) and culture (e.g., the interpersonal context of the workplace). This burgeoning interest in the human dynamics of injury prevention is encouraging, but it is discouraging and disconcerting to see so much inaccurate information presented about people and culture. Indeed, too many safety-management trainers and consultants base their lessons on biased personal experience rather than objective empirical research, and too few safety leaders are skeptical regarding the people-based and culture-based information they receive.
Each myth listed below includes a sentence and one or more research references to explain its falsity. This plus common sense are sufficient to dispel each myth. The first ten myths are so commonly stated they've become part of our culture. Yet these are readily dismissed with some thoughtful consideration of human nature and real-world experience. More importantly, the research-founded alternatives to these myths suggest practical strategies for cultivating a culture of people looking out for the safety of themselves and others with competence, commitment, courage, and compassion.
Experience is the best teacher.
- Research is the best teacher; personal experience is biased by people's personal paradigms and their premature cognitive commitment.5
Practice makes perfect.
- Practice makes permanence. Only with objective behavior-based feedback can perfection be achieved.
We learn more from our mistakes.
- Mistakes teach us what not to do, but we learn most about what to do following our successes6.