safety psychology

Psychology and Safety

Psychology and Safety
Why Do People Take Shortcuts at Work

people taking safety shortcuts
Why does a fully trained and competent person engages in the taking of shortcuts and other unsafe behaviours? How can we drive down such unsafe behaviours?

We have all taken shortcuts at some point in time and we also knew it was the wrong thing to do. Yet we engaged in it anyway.

Perhaps one reason for this unsafe behaviour is that the perceived benefit of an unsafe act is higher than it’s perceived risk. The keyword here is perceived.

I was lucky enough to meet and attend a seminar by Gerald J.S.Wilde Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, His book “Target Risk” is available from his website.

Please consider his quote below:

“People alter their behaviour in response to the implementation of health and safety measures, but the riskiness of the way they behave will not change, unless those measures are capable of motivating people to alter the amount of risk they are willing to incur”.

Could that mean that, as each individual perceives risks and benefits differently, any attempt to motivate a person to lower their level of risk taking may then have to be delivered at a deeply personal level.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) do deliver results, but they are not the full story in terms of driving incidents down. No matter how much consultation occurs, policies and procedures may still be seen as being imposed by management. Employees may publicly state support for these procedures, but this does not necessarily reflect how they feel about them privately, or how they act.
  • People can be “set in their ways”. This does not mean however that they cannot change. Neuroplasticity says that a brain can reorganize itself, both physically and functionally due to e.g. environmental and emotional factors.
  • A person may only lower their level of risk taking if the motivation to do so, comes from within. I.e., a person may lower his/her level of risk taking if he/she, at a deeply personal level, believes it is the right thing to do. Not because they were told to do so by others.

So how do you make safety deeply personal? How do you rewire the brain so that the individual becomes motivated to lower his/her level of risk taking?

I was privileged to meet people like Charlie Morecraft (Remember Charlie) and Ken Woodward (Hindsight). Hearing their stories moved me, and the hundreds of people to whom I presented their programs, intensely. A very sharp decline in safety incidents was evident immediately after presenting their programs.

But what was the key for this apparent decline in unsafe behaviours? Was it their stories only, was it in the way their stories were presented to the crews, or was it a combination of multiple factors?

I think a key here is to plant the right seed in a person’s mind and then, the organization needs to provide the right environment to allow the individual to nurture and develop that seed themselves.

So what is the right seed and what is the right environment? Yes, I have views on that from my own experience and………..those views fly in the face of traditional training and assessment strategies.

As far as I am concerned, this safety psychology approach is still a very unexplored area in safety management. Yet, it’s potential is huge. This is right side of the brain stuff.

I will share my views and experiences, but, I would love to hear some of your views too. Please share your thoughts below or contact me directly:, 02 43823055 or visit

Have a great day,

Everardus Gunzel

CEO Leading Safety Training