When a behaviour-based approach to safety was first introduced around 20 years ago to improve safety performance in companies, it had a revolutionary effect. Across most industries and countries, safety performance improved dramatically. After significant progress, a large number of organisational safety statistics are however no longer showing substantial improvement. That leads them to believe they are operating at peak safety performance. They are satisfied with the results they have achieved. DuPont believes this sense of security to be misguided. In reality, organisations have reached a point where all their systems and rules are hampering further safety improvements.

The truth is that behaviour-based safety is a required foundation for a company to achieve a good safety performance, but it is not enough to create a truly independent culture where employees independently analyse risks in situations not governed by safety systems and rules. This is where subconscious decision making comes in.

In order to manage unexpected and unobserved situations that are outside of standardises processes, procedures or normal work activities, it is critical to understand how individuals reach and act on the thousands of decisions they make in everyday life.

There may, for instance, be a generational difference in attitude. Many younger people have less experience of industrial accidents than older generations and are therefore likely to have a higher level of complacency. In other words, when entering a plant or the production floor, those who have never witnessed an accident or seen the consequences are likely to assume that the work environment will be safe. But production facilities are not always predictable environments, where individuals can rely on performing the same planned tasks without variation. Instead, there are many complex variables, unknowns and unexpected circumstances that can affect safety. Can companies count on their rules and procedures to be enough to ensure their staff will consistently make the right, rational decision in every case when installing, operating and maintaining assets and equipment? It is unlikely, when we consider how much people differ.

As findings in cognitive psychology, notably by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, have demonstrated, we do not always make decisions based on information and data, but are influenced by feelings and emotions. As a result, our responses to situations can vary widely.

This inconsistent decision making has a high cost for business. DuPont has therefore explored what sub-conscious drivers influence people’s safety decisions, then developed an approach to safety called the RiskFactorTM that introduces changes based on affective psychology. These include the procedures that promote consistency so employees in the same role use similar methods to gather information, the implementation of a risk and reward balance by, for example, using nudges that make the safe choice the easy choice, and the application of lean thinking to risk and safety. This looks at the flow of operations from a risk/reward perspectives. If a walkway results in a 10-minute detour several times a day, the perceived reward of taking a shortcut is very high. The objective is to improve workflow so employees are not tempted to take these shortcuts.

Automatic, sub-conscious decision making starts with a cue. Routines trigger behaviour and perceived rewards. To change habits and intuitive decision making, it is essential to change the cue, the perceived reward and engage people at an emotional level. DuPont uses a number of approaches to raise people’s awareness of their subconscious influencers to equip them for taking risk-based decisions. From behavioural interview techniques to focus group discussions, and leadership coaching, this approach seeks to enable companies to achieve sustainable safety improvements.

Organisations need to understand and anticipate the way their employees will react in situations that fall outside normal rules, procedures and predictable environments when they work in isolation or in teams, in small groups far from supervisors or in busy plants. Will subconscious decision making take over or will affective risk management psychology kick in to ensure even unexpected risks are met by deliberate, conscious actions.

For further information, please visit www.sustainablesolutions.dupont.com