Psychology

When no one is looking . . .

May 11, 2000
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When we work alone we need to hold ourselves accountable, and that takes a sense of personal responsibility. How do we do it? What will make us go out of our way for our own safety?

Interpersonal safety coaching isn't relevant here. But the very essence of behavior-based safety is used for a process I call safety self-management. It's a way of getting people to act themselves into feeling more personally responsible for their own safety, to actively care about workplace safety and health when no one is around to hold them accountable. Here are ten techniques for managing your own safety:

1. Observe and record your own behavior Managing your own safety starts with self-knowledge. Develop a checklist with a number of critical safety-related behaviors to observe while you work. Every time an opportunity for a particular target behavior occurs, simply judge whether your behavior was safe or at-risk, and mark the 'safe' or 'at-risk' column of your checklist. At the end of a day or week, total up the number of safe and at-risk occurrences for each behavior to calculate a 'percent safe' score. An 'overall percent safe' can be calculated from these totals. Then chart your performance on a graph to track daily or weekly fluctuation.

Recording and charting 'percent safe' scores will significantly improve your personal safety because it gets you involved; you become accountable to yourself. Still, you'll discover that a few at-risk behaviors occur more frequently. They become the targets of your self-management process.

2. Analyze the activator-behavior-consequence sequence A key principle of behavior-based safety is that actions are directed by activators or events preceding behavior, and are motivated by consequences or events following behavior. During your self-observation and recording process, note activators and consequences relevant to the behaviors on your checklist. You might be able to remove activators or consequences that encourage or reward at-risk behavior. Or you might be able to add activators or consequences to increase certain safe behaviors.

3. Take control of activators Posters, signs, and other reminders are the most popular activators for safety. But only a small portion of the many activators we see each day actually influences our behavior. We're often in a state of 'information overload' where we either don't notice or ignore many activators. Still, we can place a few activators in strategic locations as reminders. Or we can tell ourselves to pay attention to certain activators that encourage safe behavior or discourage particular at-risk behavior.

The most powerful activators make us aware of the consequences of our actions, either positive or negative outcomes. Sometimes a picture is all you need. Then write your own caption to make the activator more personal and compelling. Personally written or spoken statements are activators that both instruct and influence your perception and beliefs.

4. Cue your own performance If you say to yourself, "I buckle up to set a safe example; my behavior could influence anyone who sees me, especially a family member; and I don't want anyone to think I'm irresponsible about personal safety," you are likely to buckle up. Notice that this inner-dialogue includes specific instructions, and expresses a belief about the value of setting an example that provides a strong rationale for performing safely. Note, too, how your beliefs influence your perception or interpretation of personal events.

Observations can shed light on your true beliefs. What does it say about your safety beliefs if you catch yourself speeding, or taking a calculated shortcut? You might find that you're not being entirely truthful when you say that safety is one of your core values. Perhaps you'll discover an inconsistency between something you value and the way you act. This can motivate you to make a behavioral adjustment.

5. Reward yourself Research shows that individuals who reward themselves are more likely to sustain a self-management process and improve their own performance. Three factors determine the effect of these rewards: selection, delivery, and timing.

First, personalize your reward. The possibilities are endless. We could be talking about opportunities to exercise, eat certain foods, spend money, attend an entertaining event, watch television, or say to yourself with pride, "I did it." It's a matter of giving yourself an opportunity to do something enjoyable after you've done something that is less fun but important for your own improvement.

Base your rewards on specific behavior, not affirmations or good intentions. Observe your behavior systematically and reward yourself according to the criteria you define. The reward should come as soon as possible after the target behavior occurs.

6. Set SMART goals Rewards should be directed at a 'SMART' goal-one that is specific, motivational, achievable, recordable, and trackable. At first, give yourself rewards to recognize small steps of progress toward the goal. During the early stages of self-management it's often useful to reward yourself for just participating in the process. In one self-management project, for example, a woman rewarded herself by adding $1 to her vacation fund each day she completed her self-observing and recording. Later she only rewarded herself when her target behavior improved. Continuous improvement occurred by successively requiring more behavior for the $1 reward. Eventually, one SMART goal was reached, and then another, more challenging SMART goal was set.

7. Chart progress and celebrate your success SMART goals are potent self-motivators because they are stated in a way that enables you to objectively monitor your own progress. When a specified level of achievement is reached, you should celebrate. It can be a personal celebration, perhaps as simple as giving yourself a pat on the back. Better yet, give yourself one of those opportunities for some personal pleasure.

Involving other people in your celebration is even more effective. Tell others about your efforts at managing your own safety and invite them to help you celebrate. If you tell others that you intend to improve certain target behaviors, the likelihood that you will actually improve increases.

8. Make a commitment When you publicly commit to doing something, you create both internal and external pressures to follow through. So make a formal commitment to improve your own safety. You can do this by:

  • signing and publicly displaying a simple pledge card that states your intention to participate in a self-management process and reach a certain safety-improvement goal; or

  • signing an interpersonal contract with a friend or co-worker that specifies the safety-related behavior you wish to improve and includes a brief outline of your plan for accomplishing this goal.

There are numerous benefits of involving others in your self-management work. They can hold you accountable to initiate and maintain your efforts, and encourage you to keep going. Plus, they can make a celebration more reinforcing.

9. Enlist social support You can get invaluable encouragement from a work culture where employees trust each other's abilities and intentions, and feel a sense of belonging and interdependency. You'll be more willing to accept personal responsibility for your own safety when you believe your co-workers genuinely want you to improve.

When you take control of managing your safety, you create a supportive social context for yourself. You look for others who might appreciate your personal commitment, and enlist support from supervisors, co-workers, friends, or family members who you know care.

10. Use imagery Mental imagery is using your 'mind's eye' to picture situations without actually being there. It's a way to anticipate and prepare for events. It can be used to direct behavior (as an activator), and to motivate behavior (as a consequence). In fact, mental imagery can be very useful in increasing personal responsibility for safety in the absence of a formal self-management project. Next month, I'll talk more about this safety improvement technique.

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