Crisis management, Occupational Safety

Behavioral accident prevention process

Prevent crises from turning into occupational safety crises

5 minutes 03/06/2023 

From the uncertainty of energy supplies, a severe cost-of-living crisis and supply chain disruptions to the war in Ukraine, climate change and the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is currently facing multiple crises. These issues are filling people with worry and anxiety that they naturally cannot just put aside when they come to work.

Your employees will continue to experience these strains on their mental health as they perform their jobs. The consequences include distraction from the task at hand and reduced ability to concentrate. Worried people soon find themselves thinking about other things – and not on safe work practices or preventing workplace accidents. This distraction increases the risk of increased accident rates and unsafe behaviors

Upgrade: From TOP measures to behavioral occupational safety

To prevent crises from turning into occupational safety crises, companies must act now to prevent a significant increase in accidents and unsafe behaviors. While occupational safety to date has consisted of technical, organizational and personnel (TOP) measures, it is now imperative that companies add further safeguards to this approach. The behavioral accident prevention process, i.e., working directly with the people in the company, must be given greater focus.

Before you can help your company ride out the current wave of crises without an increase in accidents, you must first understand that the near-constant flow of negative information from external sources can cause psychological reactions in your employees. Worries and fears have a direct impact on how people think and act. It is vital to remember this because 90% to 99% of all our thoughts and actions are subconscious. In order to reach the subconscious level and make safe behavior automatic, occupational safety managers must continually remind employees of the need for conscious, safe work practices.

Strategic and operational accident prevention measures

Do you want to prevent workplace accidents and improve occupational safety in your company? Then you need to define a behavioral accident prevention process. The following section contains strategic and operational measures to help you do just that. Click on any of the five measures below to jump to that content:

Measure #1: Develop a communication plan 

Measure #2: Talk about occupational safety regularly 

Measure #3: Leave room for the positive in your safety walks 

Measure #4: Hold Q&A sessions 

Measure #5: Establish a crisis committee 

Measure #1: Develop a communication plan

Appropriate communication about current crises will help to calm your employees’ worries and fears. This helps to maintain and, in the best case, improve your employees’ awareness of safety issues. It is therefore important to address the topic early on with active and reactive communication in your company and to develop an appropriate communication plan.

This plan should include procedures and key messages, as well as messages for employees and the public, so that you have these building blocks ready when a crisis occurs. This saves time and ensures that everyone is brought up to speed. In particular, core messages help counter the growing sense of uncertainty among your employees. It is critical that managers learn these core messages quickly and use them as needed. You can cover these messages effectively in small training sessions.

Measure #2: Talk about occupational safety regularly

Daily discussions about safety help to achieve a sufficient level of occupational safety awareness and to ensure that everyone knows how to prevent accidents in the workplace. Holding short safety meetings on a regular basis is remarkably effective. You can supplement these meetings with visual aids provided by accident insurance organizations or hold short refresher training sessions in the workplace.

This may sound like a lot of work; however, when done right, it is anything but. Psychological research has shown that people retain knowledge best when they are actively involved in developing and repeating content. Use this insight to your advantage.

For example, you could do this during a training session on a piece of machinery. Talk to your employees about the risks involved when working with the machinery and the safety measures that can protect them from injury. This method directly involves employees, which leads to increased awareness and consciousness of occupational safety. When using this strategy, be sure to use moderation and keep the activity to no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Measure #3: Leave room for the positive in your safety walks

Conducting safety walks is another operational measure that helps raise awareness of occupational safety. They should involve safety specialists as well as managers and safety officers. There is no need to document every inspection in painstaking detail – the main purpose is to show face and have conversations. 

However, when you do conduct documented inspections, it is important to record positive findings, too. This approach ensures that the topic of occupational safety evokes positive emotions in managers and employees.

Measure #4: Hold Q&A sessions

Regular question-and-answer sessions are an excellent way to recognize and respond to employees’ worries and fears. You can hold these sessions virtually or in person. Representatives from all levels of the company should be present at these sessions. It is a good idea to determine who will participate in and lead these Q&A sessions when you develop your communication plan. During these Q&A sessions, it is important that company representatives stick to the core messages set out in the communication plan and provide answers at a later date if there is any doubt.

Measure #5: Establish a crisis committee

Given the number and scope of current crises, it is advisable for companies to establish and develop a crisis committee. Occupational safety is one of many burning topics, but it must be integrated into the crisis committee’s duties along with all other relevant areas. A well-structured, effectively managed crisis committee ensures that all members are aware of each other’s problems so that they can work together to find solutions. This creates a sense of perspective and produces better results.

Outlook: Implementing measures to prevent workplace accidents

Planning and implementing the measures outlined in this article requires human resources and time investment. However, this behavioral accident prevention process will help you reach your employees and have a more lasting, targeted impact. You will reduce distractions due to mental stress and ensure that safe work practices are permanently embedded in the minds of your employees. As a result, you will reduce injuries, costly damages, and lost work time.

Stefan Ganzke is Managing Partner of WandelWerker Consulting GmbH. Together with his team of safety engineers and safety culture specialists, he has developed an online course to help companies plan and implement strategic and operational measures to promote occupational safety in times of crisis.

Stefan Ganzke Expert Safety Culture
Stefan Ganzke