How a Prison in the Mediterranean may change how I think about safety 

So here is a really weird question for you: 

What do Brene Brown, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant all have in common with a prison in Cyprus?

This is a two-part answer so stay with me on this. 

The other day I was listening to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast. On it, she was speaking with Simon Sinek and Adam Grant. Listening to the broadcast was like being a fly on the wall during a dinner with the three of them. To say the least, I was quite content to listen to it and may have to again. But I digress… 

There are a lot of similarities in their research and work with clients, yet all slightly different. One thing they all focus on is workplace behaviour, and trying to help people become high performers. Brene’s research has been focused on vulnerability and daring leaders in an organization to be open in order to connect with those around them. Adam is an organizational psychologist and Simon’s focus has been about finding your why. 

Now onto the second part of my answer… 

Last weekend, my husband and I were watching World’s Toughest Prisons on Netflix. This is something we both enjoy watching. One of the episodes of the latest season is about a prison in Cyprus, a little island in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Turkey. For years, this prison had a reputation for being very violent. Inmates would get beaten by the guards on a regular basis, just because they could. Then a new administrator took over running the prison. She had a very different mindset than her predecessors. Obviously it took time, but the facility has done a complete 180. Guards and inmates get along with one another, there is respect between them. Prisoners are given opportunities they didn’t have before.  

And what is most interesting, is that some of the guards that worked there under the old regime still work there. As individuals, they have changed how they work. They were given tools and were guided by the new administration to change their view on how to treat the inmates. 

So, back to my original question: what do Brene Brown, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant all have in common with a prison in the Mediterranean? 

They focus on positive behaviour in order to help individuals (no matter their level within the organization) become high achievers by helping them change their thought processes and therefore change their behaviours. 

As a safety professional, I look at all the different incidents that I have seen on site or look at what has been reported in the news, or the stories I hear from other safety professionals. What is most alarming to me is that, in my estimation, about 90% of most incidents that occur are happening because of human behaviour. Either someone did something they weren’t supposed to do, or they didn’t do something that they were supposed to do. 

I know there have been some research on the relationship between safety behaviour and incidents and try to change it but perhaps we need to focus on it more.  

Yes, we as safety professionals can try to inspire workers to do their best. But will it make a difference if a supervisor is willing and wanting to take shortcuts? Any type of culture change must start at the top. We know this. But how often does it actually happen? 

A high performer in a sales position will make the company money.  A high performer in safety will, in the short term, cost the company money.  

In my experience, not enough companies are doing enough to hold their supervisors accountable for their actions and all too willing to let go of the trades people. Or nothing will happen to either of them except a talking to and a slap on the wrist. Company leaders focus on a project managers relationship with the client but not necessarily about the relationship with the team or the people in the field. 

I am thinking we need to start taking the research and guidance from these three experts and start applying it to the world of occupational health & safety. Let’s focus on coaching our supervisors and not just the workers. Let’s talk to the leaders to see if they actually care about safety and if they want to invest the money they need into implementing good safety systems to correct the unsafe behaviours. Let’s have the CEOs put their money where their mouth is and start taking action to commit to helping to protect their workers and supervisors. 

As I was researching for this post, I came across this article on behaviour-based safety (BBS) programs. I know this has been in the industry for years. Unfortunately, I am not sure it has been utilized as well as it could be in the various industries, especially in construction. 

There was one project I was on where they tried to introduce BBS. We were told to watch workers, fill out cards and talk to them about what we observed. To say the least, the program did not go over well. There was not near enough training on the matter.

In the mean time, I am going to do more research on the matter and see if I can find small changes I might be able to implement on the job site. 

Have you implemented a behaviour-based safety program? How effective was it? What are your thoughts on the matter overall? Does it work on construction projects? I would love to hear from you! 


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