Behavioural Safety – The moments before the incident


When it comes to behavioural safety, the only behaviour that really matters is the action just before the injury is about to occur. This is the causation discussion I mentioned in previous blogs. In my mind, it is the holy grail. If you can get people to stay away from the hazard the moment just before they contact it, people wont get hurt…period!

Then the question is how do we do that? Deeply understanding what is going on for that person is critical. We have a few ways to do that. The most common is interview and ask. This can provide valuable information but in my experience, people tend to recall what they want to think happened rather than what actually happened. This is where the CCTV can play an important role and source of data, moments before the incident. Reviewing as much CCTV of incidents provides a telling insight into human behaviour.

Having recently spent many hours reviewing video of injuries and incidents, my two main observations are:

  1. Most people are not looking at hazard until it is too late, and
  2. Most people are not thinking about the hazard until it is too late (they are thinking about something else) .

My analysis and experience of this data is that in the moments before the incident, most people appear to be not focussing on or looking at the hazard that eventually hurts them, even though the hazard is visible. They are thinking about things other than the hazard. In terms of our thinking systems, either:

  • our cognitive capacity (system 2) is engaged in something else, limiting it to that task and therefore not to the hazard or
  • we are running routines (system 1) to do the task in autopilot but the routines don’t have looking for hazards in them.

So the program to influence behaviours just before the incident occurs, must address the two modes our brains think in. The conscious and the unconscious thinking (habits). However, ┬ámany sturdies and research into our thinking have shown we spend the vast majority of our day (approx. 90%) in the autopilot (system 1 – our habits). Helping to rewrite habits by ensuring your routines contain a look and think about hazards will give you a higher return then any action requiring a conscious thought.

Go and observe human action just before an incident. Look at what they are looking at. See if you can pick whether they are consciously aware of the hazard or thinking of something else. Then if they were thinking about the hazard, whether they could see it? What would be the one behaviour you would like to have just before the incident?


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