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Injury Hiding-How Do You Stop It?

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Bill Sims Jr.
10/02/2009

"I've inherited a safety incentive program that rewards people for lagging indicators and I'm worried there maybe injury hiding. How can I shift it to become behavior based?"

All too often, safety managers find themselves the unwilling inheritants of an old school safety incentive program based on trailing indicators. These programs reward employees to work a period of time without reporting injuries.  While initially sometimes achieving dramatic injury reductions, these programs quickly deteriorate into a "self-perpetuating nightmare" as one safety manager put it.

The common problems associated with these programs are:

  • Is the incentive budget really producing a return on investment?
  • Injury hiding, as employees cover things up so as not to interfere with the group winning the award prize.
  • A "band aid" approach to safety as opposed to ripping out the roots of accidents.
  • An "entitlement mentality" where employees feel that they should be paid more or somehow earn a bigger prizes based on the number of years they've been injury free.
  • A focus on "what we will give as a prize" instead of "what behaviors will we reinforce?"
  • Employees who take safety seriously are rewarded at the same level as those who break safety rules and take chances--sending a message that management really only values the safety scores at the end of the year, not the behaviors that led to them.

These are only a handful of the problems associated with lagging indicator reward programs. So how do you drop lagging indicator rewards in favor of Behavior Based Recognition(tm)?

Many companies just go "cold turkey". With a CEO's backing, the safety manager will simply end the trailing indicator rewards and get rid of the sacred cow.

Some companies choose to have no recognition in its place (not a good idea), but others work to design a more behavioral type reward program.

In this approach, the new standard becomes ZERO UNSAFE BEHAVIORS & CONDITIONS in place of the old target of ZERO INJURIES.

Raising the bar sets a new standard for organizations who have struggled year after year to attain Zero Injuries but often failed. Now, armed with a behavioral tool that helps them chart unsafe actions, near misses, and safety improvement suggestions, they can focus on the upstream. In striving relentlessly for Zero Unsafe Behaviors they achieve Zero Injuries as a byproduct.

Sticking with trailing indicator rewards will kill this upstream approach every time....in short folks, "what got you here, won't get you there." and it is time to take off the training wheels and move into a BBR solution.

So what are the dynamics of an effective Behavior Based Recognition(tm) solution?

Training-No More Spray & Pray

New research shows that 95% of all training is forgotten within 2 weeks (some safety managers say it happens in less than 2 hours!).

Many companies fool themselves into thinking that having employees sign a log sheet stating they attended the training meeting is sufficient to say that training has occurred. They use a "spray and pray" approach to training where they spray their posters, newsletters and safety videos at employees and pray that people are paying attention...with no way to measure the impact of their training.

So, one of the most important places to link recognition is to employees who pay attention and learn what you want them to. A further, more forward thinking step is to recognize kids and spouses of employees for their buy in to your process.

Recognition, the Right Way

One company decided to get rid of their old school lagging indicator programs and replace it with an in house behavior based solution. They purchased a supply of gifts, hired a full time employee to run their store, and printed up little "Safety Bucks" which were given to supervisors to reward employees who "did something safe".

Over time, they noticed that only the supervisors and their favorite employees were receiving any gifts...the good 'ole boy system was the kiss of death for their program.

Positive recognition has to occur on the spot and immediately (within 15 seconds of the behavior) according to Aubrey Daniels, a clinical psychologist. This means that you have to create an on the spot reward/recognition solution that eliminates favoritism, and injury hiding....and you have to get supervisors to buy into it and use it.

While the journey from lagging indicators to true behavior based recognition is not a piece of cake, the long term improvements to your safety process will be well worth the effort.

The Rise of Behaviorism in the Workplace...

Behavior Based Safety is both loved and hated. Hailed by some as the answer to all of our human challenges, it is feared by others as a way for "big brother" to control and humiliate the worker.

As is true of most things in life, neither of these extreme views are truly accurate.

The answers are often a bit cloudy and murky since so many consultants have slapped the "behavior based" wording on differing models.

I will attempt to bring some clarity to this discussion by offering the following thoughts.

1. Where did Behaviorism start anyway?

Long before anybody had the idea of applying behavioral techniques to the workforce, a gentleman named B.F. Skinner developed his theory of behaviorism.

I may be wrong, but I sense a little discord in the halls of academic theory. One school of thinking says that the solution to all behavioral problems lies inside the mind. You can only change behavior by sorting through the murky waters of thought.

While that science has its place, it is slow and time consuming (a good thing if you are just starting your psychology practice).

Behaviorists are sort of mavericks. They say that we don't have time for all that touchy feely stuff, instead, we should just focus on behaviors: which means what people say, and what they do.

I have to tell you that this appeals to me, being the kind of guy who wants to get more done as fast as I can.  We continue to flip the light switch (the behavior) because the lights come on (the positive consequences).

We keep eating the donuts (behavior) because they taste good (the positive consequences). Now, of course, eating too many donuts brings about all kinds of negative consequences like obesity, diabetes, death etc., but that won't stop you or me from cheerfully shoving those bad boys down. Pass the milk please.

So, if we understand that people do what they do most of the time because of the positive, immediate, certain consequences that happen to them, we can understand why they do what they do. As Aubrey Daniels puts it, "Human behavior is a function of the consequences that follow it."

2. Who got the bright idea to start applying this to safety?

In my humble opinion, the guy who figured this out first was Aubrey Daniels. I think he figured it out from the academic side. I think the first people who figured out that you could modify safety behavior were probably the folks at Dupont. In the sixties, Dupont learned that you could offer employees a reward for hitting safety milestones such as money, a jacket, a new toaster etc. and that the immediate result was a drop in injuries. That behavior change, of course, was a good thing.

Only one problem - rewarding a group of people for hitting a safety milestone in about 1 out of 3 instances will also cause peer pressure that makes people afraid to report injuries. That behavior is of course, a bad thing.

This phenomenon was so common that it has a nickname: "the bloody pocket" syndrome. It is alive and well today.

Aubrey's early work was to apply the concepts of behaviorism to provide PICS (positive, immediate, certain consequences) to change the workers behavior from unsafe behavior like taking shortcuts to safer behavior like following safety rules.

You can't get struck by lightning if you stay inside during the thunderstorm. Pretty cool idea. It works.

Now, Dupont’s “STOP” program came of age probably in the 70's or 80's and although it was a high profile program that many companies still use, it has been replaced by better approaches from the likes of BST, Safety Performance Solutions, Safestart, Aubrey Daniels, and about a zillion others.

3. Why does Behavior Based sometimes fail?

I think that every ad for a new behavior based safety process or program should carry a label "some assembly required".

That means that there is no free lunch. Somebody has to open the box and put the pieces together. Here are some common reasons behavior based safety fails... 

  • They can be overly complex and time consuming to run
  • Observations don't really include people intervening to help change behavior
  • Pencil whipping (a common problem among older processes like STOP) wherein the observers just fake filling out the forms to meet a quota
  • Too much negative reinforcement (it's like Kryptonite to behavior change)
  • Hardly any positive reinforcement (positive reinforcement is like steroids for behavior change)

4. Why do some labor unions and workers dislike behavior based approaches?

A wise CEO once told my father, "People who get unions deserve them."

Unions arise because employees are mistreated, cheated, and negatively reinforced for so long that enough is enough. You kick the dog long enough and he will bite you. 

It's primarily a lack of communication and a serious lack of getting union buy in.

It's also a result of many "Barney Fife" observers nagging people with negative reinforcement.  Watch Behavior Man destroyed by Kryptonite! For an example of their common concerns, see the concluding quotation from a popular labor union site.... www.semcosh.org

In the worst of these situations, the union leaders may begin to feel that their existence is threatened when management tries to change their behavior. Thus, the cycle continues and unions will be with us for a long long time.

The solution for this is probably to locate union operations where behavior based safety has thrived. Get these people into your shop to help break down the walls of miscommunication & mistrust. Focus on positive instead of negative reinforcement.

5. What's the big deal with "lagging" versus "leading" indicators?

We have a whole generation of managers who just need to retire. The worst thing has happened to them: They setup one reward/incentive program somewhere back in the 70's or 80's and injuries fell by 80%.  Now, they faithfully continue paying people to hide injuries years later.

It's like a gambler who wins one time with the slot machine and then loses everything he owns trying to re-create that first win.

Come on guys, give it up. Incentives are dead. We buried them in 2006.

See www.incentivesaredead.com to learn more.  Rewarding people because their team worked XXX days or hours without reporting an injury only produces two behaviors: 

  1. Fraudulent or questionable work comp claims are eliminated as people decide it best not to hurt their buddies and
  2. People who are legitimately hurt will often hide the injury and "take one for the team" 

These lagging indicator reward programs don't change any behaviors beyond the ones above. And you have to change behavior to get safer.

6. Why you should forget shooting for "zero injuries"

OUR GOAL: Target Zero Injuries.

Forget it, you'll never get there. Shooting for zero injuries will leave you with a trickle of LTI'S and recordables. Instead, shoot for zero unsafe behaviors!

Now there you have something. And raising the bar means you have to get upstream and become "behavior based" in your thinking.

Are the lights on yet?


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