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safe behaviour at work

elvs in yard
Our sites offer plenty of potential for danger - it is important to understand your workforce.
Around two hundred people still die at work in this country every year and this figure does not include around a thousand more who die at the wheel of their vehicle on the public highways (whilst at work). Around 30,000 people then suffer serious, life changing injuries every year at work. Around another 25,000 also have to leave the workforce every year as they can no longer effectively work for a living in the way in which they did previously.


This is what health and safety is all about – preventing as much of this ‘carnage’ as possible. It is not about stopping people doing things at all (as many seem to think).

New research is becoming available all the time to enable us to adopt new approaches to effective health and safety management in the workplace and many companies are now embracing what we call a ‘behavioural approach’ to health and safety at work – for it is usually ‘PEOPLE’ who cause accidents at work.

By now, you have all hopefully carried out your risk assessments, created your safe systems of work and have trained your staff in the correct safe way to carry out the tasks within your yards.

We often feel that our very young workers are most at risk within our place of work and indeed the activities of young workers needs to be very carefully controlled. They may lack experience of the workplace, their perception of workplace hazards may be somewhat lacking and they may be more likely to respond to peer pressure - encouraging them to take chances and / or work unsafely.

But did you know that the most likely member of your workforce to die at work today is typically aged around 50 years of age. They have been doing the job for years. They have never had a serious accident at work before - they have just become a little ‘complacent’.

They do not rate their job as particularly ‘risky’, they are not being tightly supervised by you on a day to day basis (thus having the freedom to make their own workplace decisions) and they feel that they have already had sufficient on the job training from you in the past to do their job safely.

Phil Wass
Phil Wass is a Chartered Safety and Health practitioner and has a Masters Degree in Occupational Health and Safety. He is Managing Director of Wass Management Limited who specialise in all aspects of health and safety training, advice and guidance. Phil is an advisor to the Motor Vehcile Dismantlers' Association and understands the needs of the industry. He regularly carries out work for MVDA members.

If you have any health and safety issues, visit Wass Management Limited, email Phil or you can contact him on 01773 541441
We know that around 80% of accidents are caused by ‘human error’ of some kind and we can site so many horrible disasters in the past where ‘behaviour’ was the key to the incident happening in the first place and / or to it getting much worse once it did happen (just think back to the Kings Cross Underground Fire, The Herald of Free Enterprise Ferry, The Pipe Alpha Oil Rig, etc.).

You could probably divide your workforce (and every other workforce) into four categories as follows : -
  • First there is - ‘Mr Safety’ (i.e. he chooses to work safely himself).
  • Then there is - ‘Mr Not So Safe’ (i.e. he follows safety only when he has to).
  • Next there is - ‘Mr Distracted’ (i.e. he has good intentions but finds it hard to concentrate on safety all of the time).
  • Finally there is - ‘Mr Persistent Violator’ (i.e. he knows he should work safely but he just doesn’t – he can’t see the point).
When not at work, ‘Mr Safety’ has smoke detectors at home, drives within the speed limit and uses an RCD cut off device when cutting the grass with his electric flymo.

When not at work, ‘Mr Not So Safe’ only takes safety precautions if his wife nags him. When at work, he only works safely when the boss is around and only puts his PPE on if he is being directly observed by his supervisor.

‘Mr Distracted’ has very good intentions when at work but he is just very easily distracted (by anything) and is quite weak willed and very easily led by other more strongly willed employees.

‘Mr Persistent Violator’ knows he should work safely but he just doesn’t – he cannot be bothered. He has been doing the job for years and has never had an accident and in fact he no longer even ‘sees’ the danger in what he is doing.

It may be interesting to list your employees and then place their names down under one of these four headings (as above) – I bet they all fit into one of these groupings, don’t they? I also bet you have at least one in each category as well? I reckon that you will all have very few ‘Mr Safetys’ but quite a few ‘Mr Not So Safes’ and ‘Mr Distracteds’ too ? It is also usually quite common to have at least one ‘Mr Persistent Violator’!

HSE research has identified that the human being in the workplace causes problems linked to bad decision making which can be divided into the four categories below:
  • errors
  • violations
  • slips (or lapses)
  • mistakes
An ‘error’ was never intended – it was a genuine mistake (we all make them occasionally don’t we?).

A ‘violation’ was a deliberate unsafe act (he knew it was wrong but he took a chance).

A ‘slip / lapse’ was doing something in the wrong order or operating a wrong switch (it was not intentional) it was just caused by a distraction.

A ‘mistake’ was doing the wrong thing thinking it was right (this guy has not been trained properly or needs re-training). There are different types of rule breakers within your workforce as well – firstly those who will cut corners to save time unless you tightly supervise them, then those who feel they have to take chances due to pressures of work and being under resourced within their department at that time and finally those who feel they have no option but to break the rules as something extraordinary has happened and needs a bit of lateral thinking to get it put right.

So the whole focus of this article is to encourage you to stop and think once you have filled in all that wonderful paperwork. It is great by the way – it helps you to comply with the law and it helps you to defend compensation claims - but in isolation this paperwork is not necessarily helping people to actually physically work more safely.

Once your staff have started work with you and have been inducted and as they are trained in specific tasks thereafter, then if you are lucky they will follow the training you have given them. Some though will not follow it – they didn’t understand it but were too embarrassed to say so at the time. Some will genuinely forget all of the instruction you gave them and some will appear to listen but will then just deliberately ignore it (they cannot see the point).

If one of your workers has a serious accident at work then first of all you will probably be genuinely emotionally affected by this because they are a mate, etc. After all you know their family and you are unavoidably and quite understandably ‘sucked into’ the effect on their private and personal lives as a result of that incident.

But when the factory inspector calls there will be little room for sentiment – just hard facts. He (she) will be very pleased to see that you have training records in place as well as safe systems of work but they will also want to see if you have gone the ‘extra mile’ by checking that your workers really understood all of this some time after you provided it, that you checked occasionally that they were following it consistently, etc.

There will always be freak incidents in a work place which are hard to predict at the time you carry out your assessments. But one thing for sure, ‘people’ cause most accidents at work and they need to be controlled very differently and very separately ‘as individuals’ if we are to minimise these occurrences. They do not all respond to the same management style.

‘Mr Safety’ just needs a pat on the back occasionally – he would actually probably like to get involved in helping you to run safety at your site.

‘Mr Not So Safe’ – just needs a gentle word (he is not a bad guy really). He needs to realise that you will not turn a blind eye if you see him not following safety procedures. This will probably be enough to do the trick if you stick at it and make him realise that you really mean it. ‘Mr Distracted’ needs a good supervisor to ensure that he stays focussed and motivated to stick at doing the job properly – all the time.

As for ‘Mr Persistent Violator’ – why have’n’t you started disciplinary proceedings yet. What do you mean he is your best worker – that’s no excuse. If he is seen to get away with it then you have no chance of enforcing safety at your site. Oh, and by the way, although he is very strong willed, think before making this guy a team leader or supervisor especially of a department where there are high risk activities taking place.

So, thanks for reading - stay healthy and safe until next time. As always, feel free to contact me for any further advice at any time - all details in the box.


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