The human factor

27 June 2018

Individual worker behaviour is critical for health & safety compliance, explains James Marston, learning and development manager at the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc)

It is estimated that over half of all workplace accidents are caused by unsafe acts. When worker behaviour is less than ideal it not only endangers them but those who work with them. They can influence other workers in the same role making poor decisions and committing violations in company policy and procedures. Blaming this occurrence on carelessness alone simply lays blame on the worker and not the root cause of the problem. Poor behaviour must be corrected, and the causes removed. Anticipating poor behaviour before it occurs, making changes and stopping reoccurrence is the best solution of all.

Poor attitude must not be confused with human error or failure. Human error can be described as an action for a decision that was not intended. We all make mistakes no matter how well trained we are.

A range of issues influence a person’s safety described as the human factors. They are often grouped into three headings - individual, job and organisational.

The individual

Looking more closely at individual factors, people bring a real mix of knowledge, experience, skills and attitudes to their role. Some of these factors which can be complex cannot be changed but others can. Individual factors can be broken down further – competence, skills, personality and attitude. Competence and worker skills can, once identified, evolve and be improved through training and knowledge events. 

Our personality largely remains fixed. Whilst we cannot change people we can inform and develop their competence to ensure compliance and safe behaviour is the predominant behaviour in the workplace.

Attitude is a person’s point of view, the way they view something or how they feel about it. Changing poor attitudes is often hard to achieve. Training is always one solution but interventions such as enforcement or formal action on individuals may be the only answer.

If no action is taken, then non-compliance becomes the norm. The general consensus is that the rules do not apply. It is then just a matter of time before unsafe practice leads to a serious accident. 

Drugs & alcohol

Sadly, when we discuss attitudes at work we can no longer ignore the risks that drugs and alcohol have on behaviour at work. A person’s perception of risk and hazards can change dramatically under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The way the brain interprets information from the senses becomes confused and unpredictable. Some companies carry out random checks on employees and invest time informing staff of the risks and effects of drug and alcohol use. These actions with effective monitoring can reduce the risk but more importantly change attitudes.

All business large or small cannot afford to ignore the potential risks of unsafe behaviour whatever the cause. Active policies should be in place and enforced to protect all at work and any poor attitude investigated, challenged and corrected.