Risk perception and behaviour management

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This article from Corus Northern Engineering Services discusses the management of risk beyond the engineering measures that can be taken - such as designing-out hazards and using physical safeguards.

While most engineers are aware of the need for risk assessments in order to reduce risks in the workplace to an acceptable level, many lack the tools required to identify the drivers of unacceptable behaviour. For this reason Corus Northern Engineering Services (CNES) has developed and is successfully delivering training courses that are specifically designed to give attendees – whether Corus employees or external customers – the tools they need to reduce workplace risks.

With the focus on perception of risk and the affecting factors, the course highlights how dangerous complacency in the workplace can be. Nick O'Hara, Business Development Engineer for Professional Engineering Training at CNES, explains: "We all take our eye off the ball from time to time. If it had been a crocodile rather than a stingray in front of Steve Irwin, he would probably still be alive now. In the training courses, the focus for accident prevention is therefore on behaviour."

Human factors

Accidents in the workplace are caused through unsafe acts and unsafe conditions. Indeed, it is people – rather than objects – that cause accidents. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines these 'human factors' as: "Environmental, organisational, job factors, human and individual characteristics, which influence behaviour at work in a way which can affect health and safety."

The commitment levels of management are significantly more important than the behaviour of those who actually implement the initiative. 95 per cent of all accidents are triggered by the unsafe behaviours of employees, but unsafe acts are a consequence or symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Training course attendees consider the following questions relating to their workplace: Why do we see the same accidents occurring? Why is housekeeping so variable? Why are standards generally variable? Why do we have unsafe acts and conditions? And why is complacency so evident everywhere?

According to the HSE, "A suitable and sufficient risk assessment will reflect what is reasonably practicable to expect employees to know about the hazards in their workplace." O'Hara says that any risk assessment is therefore subject to the 'perception of risk' of the individuals undertaking the assessment: "The presented information is the same for everyone, but an individual's perception differs to a surprising degree. With these differences in perception, it can be very difficult to have a consistent approach to the risks the workforce are presented with and therefore to the controls to reduce these risks to an acceptable level.

Perception of risk

"Our training for risk assessment deals with the perception of risk and behaviour. This takes into account the physical environment, psychological characteristics, needs, motives, goals, past experiences and social and cultural backgrounds. All of these factors affect people's behaviour."

Although Corus is predominantly a steelmaking business, CNES has built up a wealth of training expertise in many areas that it is applying successfully to other manufacturing companies outside the steel industry. These courses include project management, risk assessment, health and safety, ATEX, DSEAR, COMAH, condition monitoring, confined space training and e-learning induction courses. Also included is training that focuses on the skills of materials handling, including forklift truck training, electric overhead cranes, slinging and rigging, skid-steered loaders and oxy-fuel burning.

O'Hara concludes: "Corus training providers are practising engineers. Every course Corus delivers, the company has been through the pains of meeting that particular legislation itself, and so we think this gives us an edge when it comes to providing training to other industrial companies. We know what is practical and how to interpret that legislation for the customer."

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