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Behavioural safety success criteria, can't just be limited to safe behaviours! (Part 1)

Programmes promoting safe behavior that focus on identifying and "fixing" risky behavior, will often fail as they don't consider the observed activity in its entirety as it is often only the last link in a causal chain. Professor Andrew Hopkins identified this as the Mono-causality fallacy, and that it can lead to undermining an element of a successful safety management system, rather than considering it as a stand-alone programme. Behavioural observations, provide data and context for actions and they can identify the differences between work as imagined and work as done, but they can't fix a flawed process from the sharp end, as all of the precursors are already in place from the planning and design failures.

The people participating in the observed task have high exposure but the lowest ability to influence the emergent risk, while those with the greatest ability to influence to minimise the risk may be unaware of the most salient elements. This can be one of the greatest challenges for an organisation, who have come to rely on the adaptability and problem-solving ability of its workforce, they never find out about their planning and design issues because they are always overcome in the field. If the organisation is unaware of these stresses, it can't ever develop the defenses to protect its workforce.

This is the value of the safety observation process, where it identifies the reduction in safe behaviours, it can support teams to stop work or maybe even not start work that is unsafe. it can also feed the information back to those with the greatest influence. Additionally, it can legitimise the stop-work decision and provide a psychologically safe environment for those involved. Ideally, observations should be used to identify planning and even design challenges and to facilitate eliminating risk at source as part of a feedback system.

Unfortunately, as more observations are provided, the organisation can experience challenges around the process in two ways. If the process is properly constituted there will be a large volume of safety violations identified initially and if the teams have not calibrated their review process correctly they risk being overwhelmed. This can lead to distrust of the information and the people providing it. It can also lead to decision-makers freezing because they haven't properly considered the ramifications of the type of data that they will receive or the appropriate way to action them. In these situations, the decision-makers have a tendency to say that "we can't fix that" because it hasn't been considered previously, within the correct values construct. This leads to actions not being taken in a timely manner, and poor feedback about the prioritisation and decision-making framework, because the agreed metrics for success are not being met. This can then lead to observations becoming a tick-box exercise, rather than being viewed as a pipeline for actionable data.

Behaviour safety programmes are not just unsafe acts, at the terminal point, rather they have to site within a safety management system that effectively considers the sociotechnical constructs that are the precursors to the event.

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