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Mar 03, 2020

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safety culture through positive reinforcement

When people think of EHS or OH&S, many think of rules, regulations, checks and compliance measures. They think of prohibition and limitations. All of these thoughts have one thing in common: a general sense of negativity. The concept of workplace safety can often create a company culture of following safety procedures only to prevent getting into trouble, rather than following safety procedures because of a strong belief in the importance of safety.

And so in order to create a safety-conscious company culture, where workers actively think and behave with health and safety in mind, positive reinforcement must occur to balance out the policies and regulations within a company.

So what is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is when stimulus or a reward is used after a behaviour is exhibited in order to encourage this behaviour to be repeated. For example, a bonus is given to sales staff who exceed their sales targets.

So how can positive reinforcement be used to drive a culture of safety in the workplace?


Acknowledge and thank people for the right behaviours

It sounds so simple, but this is one of the most overlooked parts of management.  Managers will reward and thank people for their efforts in bringing in more business, meeting tight deadlines, saving the company money… but it’s rare that they acknowledge workers when correct safety procedures are used. Why? Many managers will argue that following safety protocols should be a given. They ask, why should I thank someone for doing what they should always be doing?

The answer is simple: positive reinforcement means that behaviour is more likely to be repeated.

Just a simple thank you or some recognition of the correct behaviour not only makes it more likely the person will continue with that behaviour, but it will also influence the behaviour of others.

This creates the foundations for a culture of safety. Businesses are finding that a rewards and recognition program that acknowledges good safety practices are showing signs of success, with their culture of safety strengthening and resulting in less incidents and injuries. It’s all about keeping safety top of mind!

So the next time someone does the wrong thing, of course they need to be told this. But the next time someone does the right thing, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge it and watch that behaviour become stronger and spread.


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