ABC Behavioural Change

Andrew, Southwests Managing Director in his opinion believes that when we look at health and safety, there is an overuse of antecedents in trying to control behaviour. Many safety interventions in the work settings focus on antecedents, or events that come before behaviour.

For example, site rules, process and procedures, safety signs, toolbox talks, or pre-start briefs etc. These can be effective in activating behaviours initially, but it is what occurs after our behaviour that ensures the behaviour will occur time and time again.

“Despite the fact that we rely heavily on antecedents, it is consequences that have the greatest influence on behaviour. “

  • Antecedent A stimulus or event that occurs before a behaviour in time
  • Behaviour How we want the individual or group to react
  • Consequences A stimulus or event that occurs after a behaviour in time. This consequence could increase or decrease behaviour in the future, depending on its reinforcing or punishing properties.

The antecedent is usually where we put the work in, producing site rule, procedures and safe systems of work and as we saw they are great for initialising action, but what happens after a while? People have a tendency revert to how they were before. (Habit). The important thing to remember is that without consequences they may not work.

I was working on a project in Kazakhstan and a welder was carrying out his job, and he was doing it perfectly, screens up, bucket of sand (a local legal requirement) etc. I asked the supervisor to stop the work when it was safe to do so, and when he did I could see the welder was waiting for the “telling off’. I explained via the interpreter that I was impressed that he was not only wearing the correct PPE, which I listed, but was considering others with the screens and had in place all the correct control measures.

Afterwards I was asked why I had stopped work, and in a word, I explained “Consequences.” “But there weren’t any” they retorted, “he wasn’t doing anything wrong!”

The problem is that we have come to associate consequences with negative values, you speed you get a fine, you brake health and safety legislation you get a massive fine or put in prison, but in order to get behaviours we want we also have to have positive stimulus as well.

By simply acknowledging to the operative that he was doing a great job, I was in fact stimulating the kind of behaviour that I wanted occur, there were consequences! But in this case positive consequences. By listing the PPE, he was wearing and the other control measures I was in fact reinforcing their behaviour, so next time they would be more likely to it again.

We do it with dog training time and time again, good behaviour dog gets a biscuit, dog wants biscuit so repeats the behaviour. Dog does behaviour that we don’t want dog gets a squirt of water. Dog doesn’t like water, so dog doesn’t repeat behaviour. I am not for one moment suggesting that we condition train humans, but please do take the point, that we need positive consequences not just negative ones!

Negative consequences tend to only work if we believe they will a) happen and b) we will get caught! And too many people believe that it will never happen to them and that if it does they will “get away with it.”

Don’t forget after a period of time we may reverts back to how we used to do things (Habit), so as a manager you have to be on it.

Our HQ

Unit 3D, The Enterprise Centre, Fitzgilbert Court, Castledown Business Park, Ludgershall, Andover, SP119FA

Sign up for updates and our newsletter

Keep up to date with our upcoming courses, company information, advice and special offers