Positive Reinforcement Program

Positive reinforcement programs are used to improve safety at work. Researchers introduced one program in a wholesaler bakery. An analysis of the safety-related conditions existing in the plan before the study suggested a number of areas that needed improvement. For example, new hires received no formal safety training, and mangers rarely mentioned safety on a day-to-day basis.

The new safety program included positive reinforcement and training. The firm set and communicated a reasonable goal (in terms of observed incidents performed safely). A training phase was next. Employees received safety information during a 30-minute training session by viewing pairs of slides depicting scenes that the researchers staged in the plant. One slide, for example showed the supervisor climbing over a conveyor; the parallel slide showed the supervisors walking around the conveyor. After viewing an unsafe act, employees had to describe what was wrong (“what’s unsafe here?”). Then, after airing the problem, the researchers demonstrated the same incident again but performed in a safe manner and explicitly stated the safe rule (“go around, not over or under, conveyors”).

At the conclusion of the training phase, supervisors showed employees a graph with their pre-training safety record (in terms of observed incidents performed safely) plotted. They were encouraged to consider increasing their performance to the new safety goal for the following reasons: for their own protection, to decrease costs for the company, and to help the plant get out of last place in the safety ranking of the parent company. Then the researchers posted the graph and a list of safety rules in a conspicuous place in the work area.

The graph helped provide positive reinforcement. Whenever observers walked through the plant collecting safety data, they posted on the graph the percentage of incidents they had seen performed safely by the group as a whole, thus providing the workers with feedback. Workers could compare their current performance with both their previous performance and their assigned goal. In addition, supervisors praised workers when they performed selected incidents safely. Safely in the plant subsequently improved markedly.

Use Behavior Based Safety:

Behavior-based safety means identifying the worker behaviors that contribute to accidents and then training workers to avoid these behaviors. For example, Tenneco Corporation (which manufactures automobile exhaust systems and Monroe brand suspensions) implemented a behavior-based safety program at its 70 manufacturing sites in 20 countries. The firm selected internal consultants from among its quality managers, training managers, engineers, and production workers. After training, the internal consultants identified five critical behaviors for Tenneco’s first safety program, such as: Eyes on task: Does the employee watch his or her hands while performing a task? The consultants made observation, collected data regarding the behavior, and then instituted on site program to get employees to perform these activities properly.

Use Employee participation:

There are at least two reasons to get the employees involved in designing the safety program. First, those actually doing the jobs are often management’s best source of ideas about what the potential problems are and how to solve them. Second, it is generally easier to get employees to accept and enthusiastically follow the safety program when they’ve had a hand in designing it.

For example, when the International Truck and Engine Corp. began designing its new plant in Springfield, Ohio, management opted to involve employees in designing a safer and more efficient facility. This modern plant was to use new types of robot equipment with which the firm had little experience. Management therefore decided that it would be best to involve employee and plant safety representatives as well as the usual product engineering and facilities engineering managers in designing the plant.

Employee participation took several forms. Management appointed joint labor – management safety teams for each department. Several years before the equipment was to arrive, project engineers began speaking with safety team representatives to start designing safeguard systems for the robot equipment. The company sent one safety team including the union safety chairman, to Japan to watch the robot machines in action, and to develop a checklist of items that the safety teams needed to address. Then, back in Ohio, members of this team worked with employee safety representatives to identify possible hazards and to develop new devices such as color-coded locks to better protect the employees. Once they are committed to the idea of safety, a checklist can provide employees with a useful reminder of what to watch out for.

Conduct Safety and Health Audits and Inspection:

Again however, programs for reducing unsafe acts are no substitute for eliminating hazards. Routinely inspect all premises for possible safety and health problems, using checklists as aids. Investigate all accidents and “near misses”. Have a system in place for letting employees notify managers about hazards. Use employee safety committees to do the inspecting. Committee activities include evaluating safety adequacy, monitoring safety audit findings, and suggesting strategies for improving health and safety performance.

The manager can expedite the safety audit process considerably by using a personal digital assistant such as a PalmPilot. For example, one Microsoft Windows application for designing and completing safety audit questionnaires is called Process and performance measurement (PPM). To use this application, the manager for safety gives audit a name, enters the audit questions, and list possible answers. For example, typical questions for a fire extinguisher audit might include, “Are fire extinguishers clearly visible and accessible?” and “Are only approved fire extinguishers used in the workplace?” The supervisor or employee then uses the PalmPilot to record the audit and to automatically transmit it to the firm’s safety office.