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Changing working patterns and heightened awareness for mental health have stoked the discussion surrounding the methodology and metrics currently being used in occupational health and safety. The traditional approach is focused on avoiding negative events. It is also the reason why concepts like ‘Vision Zero’ and ‘Zero Accident Vision’ are widespread in many organizations. However, use of this approach as the sole focus of occupational health and safety has drawn criticism from various quarters. For the Safety Management Trend Report Quentic interviewed Gerd-Jan Frijters, a renowned safety culture consultant and founder of D&F Consulting-, and a strong advocate of a modern approach.
The power of positive psychology: Safety-II
Gerd-Jan, you are the founder of D&F, a consultancy for processes around safety culture, behavior and integrated safety management. Which approach to safety do you personally advocate?
Definitely Safety-II! It is a positive approach that focuses on learning from successes rather than mistakes. Sure, we have to learn our lessons from incidents and accidents, but as a psychologist, I see a much greater potential in programs that base themselves on positive psychology. I truly believe that safety is connected to positive psychology.
Fresh perspectives on safety management
What potential could Safety-II, Safety Differently, Psychological Safety, and Behavior-Based Safety hold? Build your strategy with modern perspectives on occupational safety.
You visit hundreds of companies every year. Would you say that they share your approach?
Well, I believe that most programs are still based on the Safety-I concept. We monitor accidents and incidents and we try to learn from that. And we think that these heavy accidents create a fear that makes people behave more safely. I do not believe this is the case. I believe in a much more positive way, namely to reinforce and encourage safe behaviors.
ABC Behavioral Analysis
Do you believe the companies have enough tools to focus on this positive behavior?
I think there are a lot of digital and also non-digital tools available. For instance, the ABC Behavioral Analysis. The A is for Antecedents, the B is for Behaviors and the C is for Consequences. When you have positive consequences on the C-side, it has the strongest effect on behaviors. Tools are available, but I do not see much practical application of them in companies today. And this is related to safety culture. I still hear from leaders who think their employees have to behave safely because that’s what they are paid for. In cases where they do not comply, they correct this with punishment. But, when I ask them if they take the same approach to raising their children, they pause to think. Then, they realize that positive stimulation has to be part of their instruments as well. However, it still feels difficult for leaders and managers to adopt this thinking.
Safety Management Trend Report 2021
Gerd-Jan Frijters is one of eleven international experts who participated in the panel study for the Safety Management Trend Report 2021. You can download the full report here to get
New perspectives: Leading experts from eight countries share their estimations of the most important trends and the effects the Coronavirus pandemic has had on occupational safety
Valuable experiences: For the first time, the Safety Management Trend Report includes a large survey of professionals throughout Europe
A view to the future: What priorities are needed to make occupational safety fit for the future? What should specialists concentrate on now?
Better performance indicators for safety in 2021
If you could give one piece of advice to the experts in the field, or one thing to change during the next year, what would it be?
If you use performance indicators to measure the success of your safety measures, I would advise you to formulate them positively. So, don’t say: “We have seen 12 unsafe situations today”, but think of it as: “We observed 100 situations today, and 88% of them were safe”. So, view the situation from a positive angle. Sure, there is room for improvement, but this approach rewards those who behaved safely, and, typically, they are in the majority. This is not new, but I rarely see this in companies.
Using digital tools to improve safety culture
Many companies have started digitizing their safety processes and most software is able to do this. But we also see that many companies have just started digitizing their old processes. Would you say that, when companies are implementing a new tool, it would also be wise to embed this positive flow directly?
Yes, because it will directly make a change. In addition, digital tools offer so much potential for improving safety culture. For example, with surveys and interviews, you can only say what your safety culture was a few weeks ago. However, with real-time feedback and measurements through apps and software, you get more data and a continuous reflection.
And digital tools offer even more ways to positively influence safety culture. Take my colleague Kelly van Krieken at D&F. She has a safety gamification background and looks at how apps and software can implement a gaming design. People like computer games because they get positive feedback instantly. They see their results and can compare them to their friends and family. When we are able to integrate these gamification basics into software tools or apps, it will become much more fun for people to use this app or software suite.
Independent safety culture consultant, founder of D&F Consulting
Gerd-Jan Frijters has been active in the field of safety for 27 years. As an independent safety culture consultant, he is the founder of D&F Consulting, which has 45 employees and specializes in machine-, process- and behavioral safety consulting and training. He studied mechanical engineering, management and psychology and has written several books on these subjects.