Safe Behaviour Observation programs have become one of the most important safety tools in the mining work place. Here are Mining Man's six tips to improve your safe work observations - making them easier to do and more effective.
They go by a range of different names across the mining industry, but whatever they are called, Safe Behaviour Observations or Safe Act Observations are now one of the most important safety management tools available for managing on-the-job risks.
Workplace safety observation tools benefit safety both by addressing specific behaviours of people on the job being observed, and by supporting a safety culture through increased dialogue and engagement. This article gives you six simple tips to improve the ease and effectiveness of your observations.
Safe Behaviour Observations – What are they?
A safe behaviour observation is essentially a process where one person observes another person performing a job, and then discusses with that person some of the safety positives they have witnessed, and any areas for improvement in the way they are working or the controls they have put in place to manage hazards.
Usually the observation process involves three stages:
1. Find, approach and observe the job
2. Discuss the observed behaviours with the person or team performing the job
3. Complete a form to record the safe and unsafe behaviours observed
Safe behaviour observations may be carried out by anyone on the mine site, and depending on the program, will be aimed at observing a person’s peers or team members. Many sites have rolled out the observation programs from the top down, encouraging managers and then front line supervisors to carry out observations, and then once the process is understood, training all employers to perform observations on their peers.
Although the specifics of behavioural observation programs vary from business to business and site to site, there are some key elements that we as individuals can work on to make the overall system more valuable in improving safety culture. Here are my six tips to improve your observations:
Mining Man’s Six Tips:
1. It’s the Discussion That Counts
The main value to be found in the safety observation process is actually in the discussion which takes place, not in the observing or the paperwork (although these are both vital to the overall process). By engaging in a discussion about safety, we are not only addressing any specific issues that were observed on the job and giving the person feedback, but we are also making a habit of thinking and talking about safety – one of the biggest keys to a great safety culture.
Make sure that you enter into a discussion with the person you are observing. Even if everything is being done correctly, you can still talk about why people did certain things and what was their thought process.
2. Ask lots of Questions
You don’t need to be the expert on the particular work area or task being observed. In fact, sometimes the best observers are those who are not familiar with the work being carried out.
The best way to start your discussion with the person you are observing is with a question, something like: “What is the job you are working on here?” Follow this up with more questions to find out what is going on, why people are doing certain things, and what they have thought about in regards to hazards and safety. Questions such as these are quite useful:
- “What hazards have you identified on this job?”
- “How could someone get hurt doing this job?”
- “Is there a procedure for this job?”
- “How could someone get hurt later on after you’ve left the area?”
By probing with questions you will learn more about the job itself, the hazards involved, and can dig into the reasons behind people’s behaviours or lack-thereof. Safety observations should be less about telling, and more about asking and engaging.
3. Focus on Behaviours
Always focus only on what you can physically observe – hazards, environmental conditions, and behaviours. Stay away from discussing or assuming what people’s attitudes, thoughts, or intentions are. The safety discussion we have as part of the observation should focus on the specific behaviours that you physically observed, and why you think those behaviours were safe or not. If we focus only on facts and behaviours, and ask lots of questions instead of giving instructions, we will find the observee much more open to discussing their own behaviours and suggesting improvements.
4. Do it in Pairs
A great way to improve the effectiveness of your observations is to do them with someone else. To gain the benefit of a fresh set of eyes, try performing an observation in your area with someone else who has no knowledge of your area. For example, grab someone from the processing plant and take them into the mine with you to do observations together. You gain the benefits or a fresh set of eyes looking at how your people are working, and you can also gather feedback from the other person on your own performance while doing the observation and having the subsequent discussions. As an added bonus, you are much more likely to go out and do the observations, and find valuable ones, if you’ve made a set time to do it with someone else.
5. Go to a Variety of Workplaces
The workshop just outside your office is probably an easy place to do safety observations – it’s close by and there’s always something going on. But it is important to get out to all the different parts of site and seek out people doing jobs that would not normally be observed, jobs that are one-offs, or jobs that you are unfamiliar with. Also try going to work areas that you do not normally visit, like the processing plant if you work in the mine or vice versa.
6. Give Praise where it’s due
There is an early perception at sites where safe behaviour observations introduced that they are only aimed at catching people out doing the wrong thing. Make sure in your observations, that you are also looking to catch people doing the right thing. Give praise or positive feedback when you see things being done correctly, hazards being controlled, or instances where people have gone beyond the procedure with safety ideas they’ve thought of themselves. Certainly we always need to be addressing any areas of non-compliance or where improvements are needed, but with a little positive feedback included in each observation, people begin to look forward to being observed!
Good luck with your future safety observations, and remember that we can only change safety cultures one observation, one discussion, and one leader at a time. If you've got any tips or ideas which can help others with their observations, please leave a comment below.
This article was originally published in the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) Health and Safety Newsletter, April 2010.