The science of truck safety

Authors Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels have published a book that lays out the case that just because a trucking fleet puts the latest safety gadgets on its trucks, that alone does not make it safe.

sba-book.pngIn fact, the book, “Safe By Accident: Take the Luck Out of Safety: Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture,” makes the argument that human behavior needs to change to truly create a culture of safety. Using science-based solutions, the authors have come up with seven steps companies can take to increase safety.

One point they make is to get rid of most traditional practices such as incentive programs, safety signs, and punishment. These things, especially the overuse of signage, simply clutter the process and cause employees to tune out more important messages. Instead, use signs that direct specific behavior, such as “shut off engines,” “set brakes,” “chock wheels,” they say.

Also, they argue, basing incentives on incident rates only rewards luck and can encourage employees not to report incidents for fear of losing that incentive. Instead, use an incentive program to pinpoint specific safety behaviors.

This is my favorite, since it would have saved me plenty of heartache as a child, don’t punish for mistakes. The authors believe that employees may not report mistakes for fear of reprisal.

Also, it’s important for managers to understand that while checklists help, they by themselves are not enough to change behavior.

All of the authors’ conclusions are based on years of research and working with clients of Aubrey Daniels International. Daniels is the founder of Aubrey Daniels International (ADI), and Agnew senior vice president of safety solutions. Both are considered experts in the field of behavioral science.

Through their research, they’ve come to believe that companies rely too heavily on “lagging indicators” for safety and that going incident free is more a function of luck than a predictor of a safe organization.

“At a time when recent workplace accidents have resulted in injury, death, and untold environmental and economic damage, we need to rethink our safety practices using science and proven systems rather than questionable conventions,” said Agnew, a workplace safety and behavior expert with more than 19 years of consulting experience. “Companies that fail to take a scientific approach to human behavior are gambling with their futures and putting the lives and livelihoods of their employees and communities at risk.”

I have no doubt that some of what the authors say is true. In fact, a lot of it is true. Don’t misunderstand, though, safety technologies have come a long way over the years and play an important role in creating safer highways – in some cases even protecting us from ourselves. But, in the end, no matter how much we want to take the human element out of play, we just can’t.

You can visit the author’s website at www.safebyaccident.com to learn more about the book or to purchase a copy. A hard cover edition is $21.95.

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