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Health and Safety

Reducing error and influencing

This is a free-to-download, web-friendly version of HSG48
(Second edition, published 1999). This version has been adapted for online
use from HSE’s current printed version.

You can buy the book at and most good bookshops.

ISBN 978 0 7176 2452 2
Price £11.50

This publication is aimed at managers in all industries. It explains why human
factors are important in health and safety and how they need to be assessed
and managed in the same way as other risk factors. It gives practical advice on
how to develop systems designed to take account of human capabilities and

HSE Books

Page 2

Page 2 of 73

Health and Safety

© Crown copyright 2009

First published 1989
Second edition 1999
Reprinted 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007

ISBN 978 0 7176 2452 2

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written
permission of the copyright owner.

Applications for reproduction should be made in writing to:
The Office of Public Sector Information, Information Policy Team,
Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU or e-mail: [email protected]

This guidance is issued by the Health and Safety Executive. Following the guidance
is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the
guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and
safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this
guidance as illustrating good practice.

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Health and Safety

To improve our appreciation of risks we need information about the hazard, risk
estimates, exposure modes, and available control measures. If individual workers
can be made to feel personally vulnerable then this is also helpful. Fear-inducing
messages are not usually advisable since people are more likely to reject a
threatening fear-inducing message and to assume that the message is for someone
else. Constant pressure is needed to make sure that judgements of risk are realistic.

Believing you can control the risks
We ask ourselves how effective our actions might be in controlling the risks. We
weigh up the benefits of carrying out safe behaviours against the costs we will
incur. For example, a construction worker may weigh up the costs such as physical
discomfort of wearing a hard hat in hot weather against the benefits. The ‘costs’
are typically time, reduced productivity and physical discomfort.

We also consider how effective the available actions or procedures may be and
whether we can carry them out. For example if a health worker believes that
they will be able to dispose of used needles safely this will influence their safe

Behaving safely
The work environment and the health and safety climate influence our safe
behaviour. If supervisors and managers appear to condone unsafe behaviour in
order to achieve productivity goals then safe behaviour will be less likely. Other
barriers to safe behaviour include:

equipment which is not readily available or in good order; n
not being trained to use the equipment provided; n
a job which is designed in a way which makes it hard to behave safely; and n
other peoples’ risk-taking behaviours. n

A major influence will be what we see our co-workers doing. So if very few other
workers wear hearing protection in a noisy environment then this will not encourage
us to comply with the safe behaviour. Managers and supervisors need to be aware
that group social norms for safe behaviour exist. They need to set a good example
and positively influence such standards of behaviour.

Maintaining safe behaviour is highly dependent on safety culture including group
norms and workplace influences. The topic of safety culture is introduced on page
39 of this guidance.

Influencing safe behaviour
There are a number of ways in which you can successfully influence safe behaviour
at work, eg:

by education and training; n
through improved ergonomic design; and n
by introducing a goal-setting and feedback programme. n

The approaches complement each other and you may chose to consider more
than one.

Beliefs and knowledge are important determinants of safe behaviour. People need
to know what the safe behaviour is. Education and training are therefore vital.
Training should cover such key aspects as:

knowledge of the work-related health and safety risks; n
training and feedback in the proper use of safety-related equipment and n

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Health and Safety

awareness of the benefits of carrying out safe behaviour; and n
the views of managers and co-workers on risk-taking. n

Box N shows details from a study by Engels, van der Gulden and Senden (1997)7
to change the safe lifting practices of nurses to reduce the incidence of back
injuries. The study had educational, ergonomic and programme management

Box N Education and training of nurses to reduce back pain

Improving ergonomic design
Changing the method of working to make it easier to work safely or reducing
any ‘barriers’ to safe behaviour are important. This topic is covered in Chapter
3 of this guidance. In the study of safe lifting practices in nurses the ergonomic
aspects included introducing new safer working methods through new procedures
and reducing barriers through the purchase of lifting devices. Eliminating barriers
may be more difficult because obtaining new equipment will cost money and will
therefore need to be judged as being a reasonably practicable control measure. It
is helpful to set aside resources for such improvements and to ensure that staff are
fully trained in the use of new equipment.

Goal-setting and feedback programmes
These programmes are often referred to as behavioural safety management
systems. They aim to reduce accidents and ill health by reducing unsafe behaviours
and promoting safe behaviours by the workforce. Typically they identify unsafe
behaviours associated with previous accidents. A checklist of specific behaviours
is developed which is used for observing people’s behaviour while they work to
provide performance data. Feedback on performance is given individually and on a
group basis. Performance goals may be set for the safe behaviours and these can
act as motivators. Typical targets for such programmes include the use of personal
protective equipment, general housekeeping, access to heights, lifting and bending,
and contact with chemicals.

Key aspect

Knowledge and

Comparison of pros
and cons of desired
safe behaviour

Training in proper use
of lifting devices

Opinions of important
others (ward sister and
work colleagues)


Why important

knowing more about the origin and prevention of
musculoskeletal complaints

understanding the risk factors at work

change of attitude and intention

increase in perceived and actual competence in
safe working

intention to behave safely

confirmation of positive social norms

maintenance of safe behaviour

How achieved

training of special nurses who
then trained others

naming short- and long-term
advantages of safe behaviour

training of special nurses who
then trained others

participation of colleagues

participation of ward sister

refresher course

feedback to individuals by
special nurses

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Health and Safety

An assessment of employee assistance and workplace counselling programmes in
British organisations CRR167 HSE Books 1998 ISBN 0 7176 1519 7

Organisational interventions to reduce the impact of poor work design CRR196
HSE Books 1998 ISBN 0 7176 1632 0

Writing procedures
Guidelines for writing effective operating and maintenance procedures American
Institute of Chemical Engineers 1996 ISBN 0 8169 0658 0

Designing warnings for maximum effect
Edworthy J and Adams A Warning design: A research perspective Taylor and
Francis 1996 0 74 840467 8

Laughery K R, Wogalter M S and Young S L (eds) Human factors perspectives on
warnings: Selections from Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual meetings
1980-1993 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 1994 ISBN 0 945289 02 2

Safety signs and signals. The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals)
Regulations 1996. Guidance on Regulations L64 HSE Books 1996
ISBN 0 7176 0870 0

Human reliability assessment
Study group on human factors: Second report Report HSE Books 1991
ISBN 0 11 885695 2

Chapter 4
Fatigue and shiftwork
Monk T H and Folkard S Making shiftwork tolerable Taylor and Francis 1992
ISBN 0 85 066822 0

Moore-Ede M The 24-hour society: The risks and challenges of a world that never
stops Piatkus 1993 ISBN 0 7499 1255 3

Shiftwork, health and safety: An overview of the scientific literature 1978-1990
CRR31 HSE Books 1992 ISBN 0 7176 1119 1

Effective shift communication
Effective shift handover: A literature review OTO1996/003 HSE 1996
Web only:

Focusing on behaviour
Hale A R and Glendon A I Individual behaviour in the control of danger Elsevier
1987 ISBN 0 444 42838 0
Sulzer-Azaroff B ‘The modification of occupational safety behaviour’ Journal of
Occupational Accidents 1987 9 (3) 177-197

Health and safety culture
Developing a safety culture Confederation of British Industry 1990
ISBN 0 85201 361 2

Play your part! How offshore workers can help improve health and safety Guidance
HSE Books 1994 ISBN 0 7176 0786 0

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Health and Safety

Published by HSE 09/09 Page 73 of 73

Further information
For information about health and safety ring HSE’s Infoline Tel: 0845 345 0055
Fax: 0845 408 9566 Textphone: 0845 408 9577 e-mail: [email protected] or
write to HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG.

HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order from HSE Books,
PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA Tel: 01787 881165
Fax: 01787 313995 Website: (HSE priced publications are
also available from bookshops and free leaflets can be downloaded from HSE’s

Professional societies

Professional societies whose members include experts in human factors,
psychology and ergonomics include:

The British Psychological Society, St Andrews House, 48 Princess Road East,
Leicester LE1 7DR

The Ergonomics Society, Elms Court, Elms Grove, Loughborough,
Leicestershire LE11 1RG

Society of Occupational Medicine, 6 St Andrew’s Place, Regents Park,
London NW1 4LB

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