On Thursday, June 22, Dr. Tim Ludwig drew an audience of 500 attendees at ASSE’s Safety 2017 to his presentation on stopping the ever-popular blame game as a safety practice and instead striving for a better understanding of human behavior.

According to Dr. Ludwig, a professor at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, if you want to “turn the lights off on your safety culture” go and blame the worker. By going on the offensive and pointing out that injuries are their fault, a learning moment is lost, Dr. Ludwig said. It’s better to use the incident to learn from behavioral science how to find the true root cause of human behaviors, he said.

There is still much relevance and much to be gained from behavioral science, said Dr. Ludwig, who also consults globally as the Safety-Doc.

Says Dr. Ludwig: “Our human tendencies result in interactions that hurt the safety of our workers and the effectiveness of the systems we put in place to protect them. One tendency is to blame workers for safety errors and label their personal failings as the cause of the error. Labeling does not solve problems that cause error and, frankly, it may all be an illusion of human perception leading us to false conclusions.

“We can’t perfect human nature. But we can change behavior. We know how; there is a science behind it. We can define behaviors in a way that are as open to unbiased analysis as the elements of physics and chemistry.

“For every safe behavior you want from your workers, there are a plethora of competing alternative behaviors that can put them at-risk. What determines this decision is predominantly the work context and your management systems. We want to build an alternative to labeling with dispassionate, actionable and effective analyses. This creates the context that helps workers discriminate the best behaviors for the situation.”