In our previous blogs this month we have been discussing the term “SafetyDNA®” and why it is important to safety. SafetyDNA refers to the psychological factors that are consistently related to personal safety outcomes (e.g., incidents, injuries). These factors are made up of personality traits, values, abilities, and beliefs that all predict likelihood of injury, and each person has different levels and combinations of these characteristics. As a result, everyone has a unique SafetyDNA profile, making them more or less susceptible than others to the risks around them.
Once we have an understanding of what SafetyDNA is, we can then think about ways in which it can help keep people safe. Here are three in particular that stand out to me.
1) Behavior tells us the “what,” but SafetyDNA gives us the “why.”
Everyone knows that in order to improve workplace safety, it is essential to look at people’s behaviors. At the end of the day, organizations looking to improve safety want their people to engage in safer behaviors. Behavior is great because we can see it and measure it, and we can give people specific feedback about it so that they can change it to reduce their exposure on the job. But behavior alone does not really tell us why someone is doing something; it simply tells us what they are doing. In order to truly change people’s behavior we also have to get to the root cause and find out “why” people do what they do.
Obviously the environment, policies, training efforts, equipment and other factors play a key role in driving these behaviors. So that tells us part of the “why” behind unsafe behaviors. However, they leave out a big part of the picture – the individual person. Different people in the same situation may react very differently depending on their SafetyDNA.
While I may think that I don’t have to wear my fall protection if I’m only a couple of feet above the limit, my co-worker may not even consider the possibility of not using a safety harness whenever they work 6 feet above the ground. What I consider to be relatively safe, they might consider highly unsafe, to the point that it makes them visually uncomfortable. It’s just the way people are wired – we all perceive the world through our own perception, and that is determined by our SafetyDNA.
2) It gives us the right tool for the job.
I am not a very mechanically inclined person – just ask my father-in-law, who has spent countless hours generously helping me fix or build something in our house or my vehicle. So this quick story should come as no surprise. Last year we had a leaky drain pipe in our bathroom sink. Once I finally got fed up with the situation, I decided I would see if I could actually fix it myself. I got out our adjustable wrench and tried to take apart the drain pipe. As much as I tried, I could not get it to come apart all the way. So then I tried a different wrench…and then something else…and then some gadget with an adjustable rubber strap.
However, none of these did the trick. Eventually, I decided to do some quick research. A quick internet search revealed that I should probably be using a plumber’s wrench. Embarrassing as it may be, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a “plumber’s wrench.” So I ran to the store, picked one up, and tried it out. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes I had the pipe all taken apart.
If I had just used the right tool from the start, I would have saved a lot of time and frustration. The other wrenches could have worked eventually perhaps, but they took a lot of extra effort and never really did the job because they were not specifically designed for disassembling this type of drain. And it’s very similar with workplace safety. Traditional safety programs and training efforts are based on the assumption that everyone is equally and inherently safe. They assume that if you just give everyone the same great training program, and provide a safe work environment, you can equally reduce everyone’s exposure across the board.
Unfortunately, that’s not how people are designed. Everyone has a unique SafetyDNA profile, and different profiles result in different types of exposures. While two employees might be doing the exact same job under the same working conditions, one may fly off the handle and put themselves at risk when an unexpected, stressful situation occurs, while the co-worker next to them stays cool as a cucumber throughout. Why? Because they each have their own, personal SafetyDNA. That’s why we need to use an approach that takes into account the unique aspects of each person – it’s like using the right tool for the job, which helps us do it faster and with better results.
3) Your SafetyDNA goes with you wherever you go.
Jobs, equipment, and workplaces can change quite a bit over the course of time or even within a day, but your SafetyDNA is always with you. It helps define who you are, and it influences how you behave, regardless of time or place. That is because SafetyDNA is made up of things like our core personality traits, values, abilities, and beliefs, which do not change much during over the span of our life. They all reside within our brain and wherever you go, your brain goes also.
So if your SafetyDNA puts you particularly at risk when you are stressed out, or trying to multi-task on the job, your exposure will go up anytime those situations arise, regardless of the task you are working on, or the job you are working in. Those are risk factors you will always need to be aware of in order to ensure your personal safety in the future. And once you know what puts you at risk the most, you can be more proactive about your personal exposure, which will help keep you and your co-workers safe regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.
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