Magazine article Occupational Hazards

"Eenie Meenie Minie ... NO!"

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

"Eenie Meenie Minie ... NO!"

Article excerpt

When it comes to competing safety strategies, sometimes you don 't have to choose.

Making choices is a necessary part of life. The choice can be between two "evils": working on next year's budget or reviewing audiometric testing results. Or it can be a choice between two "goods," say, the choice between chocolate chip or coffee ice cream. But often, there's no need to choose at all. For example, your employees have fallen in love with a new line of designer protective eyewear. But some of the older workers still prefer the traditional type. No problem, as long as everyone s adequately protected, right?

In recent years, the raging controversy in safety circles has pitted a strictly behavioral approach against a cognitive approach. In general terms, behaviorists advocate a stimulus-response strategy, emphasizing observation and reinforcement of behaviors as the means to achieve desired change. Cognitivists, on the other hand, fear that once reinforcement stops, the same old behaviors (e.g.., taking shortcuts, failing to wear protective gear) will resurface as quickly as they disappeared. They favor strategies for changing unsafe attitudes and thinking: restructuring knowledge to fit new circumstances and problem-solving. Simply put, they advocate behavioral safety methods that lead employees to "think safely."

As one who finds it nearly impossible to choose between chocolate chip and coffee ice cream, I solve the problem simply by ordering a scoop of each. For entirely different reasons, I have embraced the notion of a holistic approach that combines both strategies. It's not that I can't or don't want to choose between a strictly behavioral or a strictly cognitive approach. Rather, I have seen the considerable benefits of a strategy that employs the best of both. Working in industries that range from pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and utilities to heavy manufacturing and service, have observed that a holistic approach increases the possibility that employees will develop a belief in the value of that changed behavior to fulfill a specific need or want, that need or want being safety, or freedom from injury or harm; keeping all my body parts and being able to take care ) of my family. That is when change is long-lasting.

To effectively prevent accidents and injuries, safety must become a personal value, a belief system that comes and goes with employees to work, along with their lunch box, steel-toed shoes and identification badge. When employees (line or management) recognize the importance of safety for themselves, for their co-workers and for their families, they engage in the behaviors most likely to maintain their well-being. …

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