Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Reinforcing the Unsafe Worker

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Reinforcing the Unsafe Worker

Article excerpt

There are golden opportunities available to change the behavior of even the most unsafe worker Here are some guidelines on how you can take advantage of them.

Should management reinforce unsafe workers? The unsafe worker is actually the most important employee to rein force. Unfortunately, most safety programs tend to reward only the safe workers. Providing reinforcement to a generally unsafe worker requires a change of perspective for most people in management.

Generalizations about anyone can be a problem, so caution must be used in characterizing a worker as "safe" or "unsafe." Too often, a characterization is given to a worker after only a few observations. Most employees exhibit a wide range of behavior; therefore, accurate evaluation can only occur after considerable review.

In some situations, it may be useful to relate to a person without evaluating his or her behavior and making any judgments that would categorize the person. However, in the practical world of employment, if there is a clear pattern of behavior, a person can be fairly defined by his or her actions.

After a careful and comprehensive review of behavior, an employee can be characterized as safe or unsafe if he or she exhibited a consistent pattern of behavior in a significant number of different work tasks.

The Safe Worker

In some situations, employees need little external encouragement to work safely. Through whatever prior learning experiences have occurred, they already accurately perceive the injury consequences of unsafe acts. Thus, they are now "self-motivated" to work safely.

On-the-job training and education can convince many employees, who are not already self-motivated, that the possibility of injury is real and the consequences serious. These employees come to realize that it is in their best interest to work safely, and they, too, become largely self-motivated.

Those employees who are not motivated by benefits of avoiding injuries need additional external consequences to motivate them to work safely. These consequences may be disciplinary possibilities or possibilities for reinforcement. Some employees will respond to these consequences and become safe workers.

The Unsafe Worker

The unsafe worker does not have the internal motivation to work safely, and external influences have not been successful in producing safe behavior. Reinforcement of occasional safe behavior has probably not been done or has been done ineffectively. Likewise, disciplinary procedures have not been used or have been used ineffectively.

In these cases, the employer should increase the monitoring of behavior and the reinforcement of correct behavior. The key to effectively reinforcing an unsafe worker is to find those times when he or she happens to be working safely and reinforce that safe behavior. Most people exhibit a wide range of behavior. Therefore, even the most unsafe employee will occasionally work in a safe manner.

Disciplinary procedures should be available as a backup technique to change behavior. Utilizing disciplinary procedures is especially important if serious unsafe behavior occurs.

Perfection is not always necessary to justify reinforcement. If you were to wait for perfect safe behavior before giving reinforcement, you might have to wait forever. Some safe behaviors can be thought of as skills that have to be learned over time by practice. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, you would not withhold reinforcement until the person could play perfectly.

Basics of Behavior Modification

When done correctly, behavior modification is a process by which individuals learn to behave in ways that are the most beneficial to them. Future behavior is controlled by each individual's perception of the anticipated consequence of his or her actions.

An employee's perception of the consequences of his or her behavior focuses largely on "perceived value. …

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