4 steps for creating safe, healthy habits among your workers

We all have developed habits in our lives. Some are good habits and enhance our lives, and others are bad habits and don’t usually have good outcomes either in the short or long term.

I, personally, have a number of things in my life I just do automatically without thinking much about them. My morning routine, for example, is pretty much the same almost everyday. Most of my habits these days are based on healthy choices and not “bad” habits. I used to be a smoker — a habit that has a high probability of ending a person’s life early or putting a serious dent in the quality of your life. It was an addiction/habit that was most difficult to break, but I accomplished it through a process that many can use to break a negative habit and replace it with a positive one.

On the positive side of human habits, many of us share behaviours that are good for us. Wearing seatbelts while we drive our vehicles is a common example. If we examine how we developed this habit, we could use it to help ourselves develop even more positive habits that would increase the likelihood that we’d go home every night in the same condition we started our day in.

Wearing personal protective equipment is another example. If we can make a habit of wearing a hard hat when we’re at work, it is more likely that we will be wearing a hard hat should something fall on us. If we accept that our own human behaviour fits with the model of the ABCs (activator, behaviour, consequences), then making a behaviour habitual is going to require some activators and some consequences to be repeated in a predictable way. In my experience, the best way to develop a habit is to make it very personal — engage the very people that need to develop the habit in the process of deciding on activators and consequences.

Let’s examine some of the things that we can do, ourselves and collectively, to help our “safety habits.”

1.    Pick the behaviour that you want to become habitual
For example, you want to develop a good habit among your workers of wearing hearing protection when required. This is a positive habit for those people who are exposed to noise at levels that could damage their hearing. This is particularly important since noise-induced hearing loss can occur over many years of exposure. Making the wearing of hearing protection habitual can significantly reduce the chance of that long-term injury. Making it a habit will significantly change the long-term negative outcome.

2.    Develop strategies to remind yourself to break the habit and/or develop a new one   
This is where setting yourself up for success turns into activities. Reminders (activators) of the new behaviour can be set up to stimulate the behaviour. Reminders in calendars, notes, even fellow humans can all act as the reminders that you need to acquire the new behaviour. Continuing from the hearing protection example, placing the hearing protection in close proximity to the area where the noise is would be a good reminder. I personally have placed my hearing protection on the steering wheel of my diesel tractor. I must move the hearing protection to even drive the tractor. It makes it a natural thing to put the hearing protection on my head.

3.    Measure your progress   
Personal habit development requires self-reflection, such as positive self-talk when things are going well and self-encouragement when they aren’t going as planned. There is no substitute for the hard work and effort people have to go through to develop new habits or break old ones. Often, you can get help from co-workers, friends and relatives. Adults that have developed the habit of wearing seatbelt and bicycle helmet often report that their kids were paramount in the development of these safety habits through their reminders and logical arguments: “Dad/Mom, if I have to wear it, why aren’t you wearing it?” It’s a good thing to remember that what we do speaks loudly to others. You will know when you review your behaviour if it’s working or not. If you’ve been successful, move to the next step; if not, move to the next step!

4.    Correct or celebrate   
Through measurement and reflection we’re going to know by our own evidence what is working and what isn’t. If you’re being successful, then celebrating is a good idea. Congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. Feel empowered by your ability to change your habit(s) into positive actions. If success hasn’t been realized yet, you need to revisit the plan and strategies and figure out what didn’t go well. Was it the plan itself or perhaps the fact that you didn’t execute the plan as you imagined it?There is no substitute for a good plan in achieving success. I won’t wish you luck because luck really has nothing to do with this now. You are in control and you have a plan; I can’t imagine a clearer path to success. 

Alan Quilley is the president of Safety Results Ltd., a Sherwood Park, Alta., OH&S consulting firm, and author of The Emperor Has No Hard Hat and Creating and Maintaining a Practical Based Safety Culture. Visit his blog at www.safetyresults.wordpress.com.