Safety and Human Behavior

00019_pencilIn the very early seventies I started working with a noted psychologist from Notre Dame University to learn more about employee behavior.  I was trying to figure our why we had such a rotten safety record and what we might do about it.  I had been handling the investigation and settlement of employee injury claims since the late forties and “human error” seemed to be the stated cause for most injuries and it got me interested in what caused “human error.” Actually, my job with Dr. True was to write fresh humor for his lectures.  I didn’t realize at that time that I was studying psychology or human behavior either.  Those topics were so foreign to the railroad industry that I would have been banished from the property if that were even suspected.  We were still in the stone ages in regard to the role of human behavior in regard to safety.

As I stumbled along, somehow, thanks to a brand new, highly dedicated and innovative corporate president, I was given a new job and freedom to explore my thinking.  The results were quite impressive and mostly because of the efforts of others. Nevertheless, this enabled me to move about the corporate world sharing my ideas with others. Of course a lot has changed since I began my work in 1948. Just the same the term “human error” keep cropping up as the stated cause for so many employee injuries.  We used to joke that the cause of most accidents is people and the cause of most people is accidents.  I guess that is still true today and nothing changes. Just the words we use to describe things. Some engineers I have met believe that the way to eliminate human error is to eliminate people and recently, it appears, that a lot of CEO’s are following up on that idea for a lot of employees are being eliminated.

What I discovered along the way is that when people make personal commitments to one another and take responsibility for not just their own safety but that of their fellow workers safety, thus becoming brother’s and sister’s keepers, and when they give one another a signed permission for others to interact in a positive manner, then folks just naturally work a lot saver and you get outstanding results. Oh yes, we introduced a simple 101 hand signal to avoid a lot of confrontation and people actually started communicating.  Now that might not be a whole lot for a person to figure out in just sixty-one years in the safety field but that is the best I have to offer.

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