All Your Best Prep May Be No Match For Individual Bias

Job plan is clear, supervisors and workers are ready and fit, equipment is in good condition, and even the weather is cooperating to make this a productive work day. What could possibly go wrong?

I recently reworked a hazard management plan to catch up with the latest SECOR audit protocols and when finished, I realized that there was nothing in my research that specifically addressed the bias of individual workers we train to recognize, report and resolve hazards.

It’s a simple scenario that plays out quietly every day on worksites, but sometimes leads to major consequences. Every worker who receives training in hazard id and control comes to it with a boatload of experience that impacts how they receive the training and whether they adopt the behaviour you’re hoping to see.

The results range:

It makes for a very lopsided workplace where some areas are well covered by hazard management because that’s where the adopters work, and other areas where hazards are under reported and inadequately controlled.

Individual bias can grow from many roots.

Norms

Cultural, community or family norms may have made younger members hesitate to point out problems to their elders.

Experience

Past work experience may have discouraged or punished individuals for speaking up about hazards because it slowed down the work.

Motivation

Low or misdirected motivation may cause workers to care less about the extra step of looking for and resolving hazards – it’s just a paycheque, not a lifetime commitment.

And it doesn’t help that everywhere we look, unbridled bias is winning out over reasonableness and concern for the greater good. COVID-19 vaccine protests, incredibly bad behavior among world leaders and other public figures, slash and burn political theatre. It reminds me of one of my late dad’s prophecies: feels like we’re heading to hell in a handbasket.

On these bigger issues, we may have little influence, but when it comes to hazard management, we have no choice but to directly influence the behaviour of our workers.

Hazard identification is the fundamental pillar of workplace safety.

Workers on the frontline are in the best position to make their workplaces safe. But how do you change the behaviour of someone who doesn’t want to change, for whatever reason? The safest choice for workers who repeatedly ignore hazards may be reassignment or termination, but in a tight employment market, that’s a tough call. Better yet, strong mentorship and supervision with redirection instead of discipline has a greater chance of success and safer workplaces.

Every workplace and every worker is unique. It takes time to sort out how best to make both work safely together. Non-compliant behaviour is just as much a hazard to safety as unguarded machinery. It’s our job as safety managers and supervisors to recognize it as such, eliminate it where possible, or control it. 

NeXafe partner Cari Chernichen has been involved in the development of workplace safety standards in Canada and internationally for more than 30 years.

We’re happy to share more information about NeXafe’s Hazard Management Program materials. 

Stay Safe

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