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To Intervene or not to Intervene

By Sue Briggs.

Effective management of health and safety in organisations is becoming an ever more important necessity regardless of the type of business. Developing a positive safety culture is essential and managers and employees alike are faced with the dilemma of whether to actively intervene or not.

Intervention: from the Latin intervenire meaning “to come between”; action taken to intentionally become involved in a difficult situation in order to improve it.

When we think of intervention in terms of Behavioural Safety, we usually think of a situation at the point of work where the danger is clear and present. One colleague preventing another from tripping over a cable, or stopping the job because the team hasn’t received a full briefing.

But we know that organisations are complex and risk is also introduced through decisions taken that are distant in both time and geography from the point of work. At meetings in boardrooms and offices as well as out on sites. Through planning, design, procurement and many other types of conversations.

If you ask people “why do we intervene”, they will answer “Because I could see what could go wrong and I wanted to stop it”. So far, so clear and applies across all contexts. But if you ask “why don’t we intervene?” it gets trickier.

There is a psychological process that we need to follow to actively intervene, and this applies to senior leadership decision-making as much as frontline supervision.

* You have to notice that something is happening

* You have to see that there is a risk

* You have to take personal responsibility – see it as your problem

*You have decide what you are going to do

* And then you have to do it

At any point through this process we can be derailed by a range of factors:

* Who else is in the room

* The pressure we or they are under to deliver

* Shifting priorities

* Fear of consequences

* We don’t know what to do

* We lack the skills to intervene effectively

* We may not see it as our problem “what does finance have to do with safety?”

* Complacency “it’ll be fine”

A positive Safety Culture is one in which intervention at any level is not only welcomed, it is actively sought out and rewarded by Leaders. Where the barriers to intervention are openly recognised. No matter where you work.


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