Risks v. Rewards

After reading an article on The Importance of Portable Ladder Safety in Professional Safety March 2021, which does a good job describing the hierarchy of controls, I couldn’t help but think back on a training class I attended a long time ago, where the instructor tried to explain why employees take risks.

According to this instructor, employees are willing to take risks primarily for two reasons; they are trying to be efficient, which is human nature, and which also happens to be their “reward”.  Secondly, they don’t always fully understand the consequences of their actions, meaning, they don’t perceive the risk.

The instructor used a ladder example to explain:

Reason 1: Employees are trying to be efficient, which is human nature

It is human nature, for the vast majority of us, to perform a task as efficiently as possible. It makes us feel good (the reward) when we successfully complete a task on time.  He explained that if we show up at a worksite with a 6’ stepladder, but find that an 8’ ladder is what we need, for many of us, our mind thinks it would be inefficient to go back to the shop and get the correct ladder.  Especially, since I can stand on the top step and get the task done now, rather than later.

Reason 2: Employees don’t know the true severity/consequences of their actions

It is likely that the employee working from this ladder has never fallen from a stepladder, or if they have, they were fortunate and landed on their feet.  Since they have never experienced a severe consequence, they have no real concept of the potential injury that could be sustained had they fallen on their head or back. Not having a good knowledge of risk leaves us blissfully unaware of the potential consequences of our actions.

Think about how many times your employees take this risk (i.e. use the wrong ladder rather than take time to replace it) and the reward for their actions (i.e. finish on time, in the name of efficiency).  Each time they take this risk and are rewarded (efficiency and no consequences), it only reinforces their behavior.

This behavioral issue is not easily fixed.  It requires effective training, management leadership, consistent oversight and a strong safety culture.  Let Safety Reports assist you with your safety efforts.  If interested in learning more about what we offer, please contact us.

In closing, the next time you see an employee perform an unsafe act, evaluate and respond from the standpoint of risk versus reward.

Steve Polich, CSP


Safety-Reports.com, Inc.

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