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  • Proceedings 19th Triennial Congress of the IEA, Melbourne 9-14 August 2015


    Neuroscience: The Brains behind Behaviour Based Safety

    Vanessa Elliott, Ken Horrigan Soteris, Australia

    Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) has dominated approaches to safety management for over twenty years, with much confidence held in its effectiveness in risk reduction and changing safety behaviour. In more recent times, there has been a trend toward scientific approaches to safety, with neuroscience proving to be more efficacious and sustainable. The strength of neuroscience is its extension beyond the traditional cognitive-behavioural, social, and affective theories of decision-making, motivation, risk perception, and risk taking in safety behaviour. While existing BBS models of safety intervention focus on components of cognition and behaviour in shaping positive change to safety, neuroscience goes deeper into behaviour by exploring the various layers of the mind that are crucial to shaping and sustaining positive attitudes to, and belief in, safety.

    This paper describes how the principles of neuroscience allow BBS programs to successfully evolve to incorporate a more complete understanding of behaviour. It also describes neuroscience and its critical contribution to achieving positive safety outcomes. Neuroscience brings a new understanding of the relationships between brain, mind and behaviour, while retaining proven aspects of BBS models such as Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence (ABC) and Skills-Rules-Knowledge (SRK) that have proven to be effective in improving safety performance. Neuroscience provides us with a greater understanding of how the brain influences behaviour.

    Neuroscience also explains why safety procedures, Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) and rules are so often forgotten or disregarded. An organisation comprises people in constant communication and interaction, influencing and changing outcomes sometimes in ways that are unpredictable. People have a tendency to pay attention to those things in life that are meaningful or personally motivating to them. If existing policies or procedures are processed by the brain as irrelevant or unpalatable, this triggers a response in the brain that motivates the person away from those policies or procedures. Researchers in the field of social neuroscience have noted that our need for belonging and acceptance is as strong an influencer on our choices and actions as our need for food. Extrapolating this to organisations, harnessing the social life of organisations enables organisations to build shared knowledge and commitment to safety processes designed to keep people safe and build sustainable positive safety outcomes.

    It is vital that organisations do not squander the gains made through BBS and Zero Harm programs. The application of neuroscience principles allows these organisations to break through their safety plateau, pre-empt and respond more effectively to left-field risks and incidents, and build on gains of existing programs to embed a strong positive safety program. The paper concludes with a discussion of the practical applications of those principles. Practitioner Summary: Vanessa Elliott is a registered psychologist and Managing Director of Soteris Pty Ltd. Her areas of expertise are in neuroscience, health, clinical, and corporate psychology. Vanessa is a skilled executive coach, facilitator and trainer, with over 16 years experience in the field. She brings her diverse experience to the field of safety management, offering best-practice contemporary safety and risk solutions for organisations and individuals. Ken Horrigan is a Fellow of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia and a Certified Professional Ergonomist specialising in engineering and organisational ergonomics. He is General Manager of Soteris Pty Ltd (Safety through Innovation and Science, a company specialising in the applications of neuroscience and assisting organisations to develop a Positive Safety Culture. Ken has had extensive experience in Ergonomics, OH&S, Risk Management and Investigations. Keywords: Neuroscience, SCARF, Behaviour, Positive, Safety

  • Proceedings 19th Triennial Congress of the IEA, Melbourne 9-14 August 2015


    1. Introduction Safety performance and worker safety remains a critical social, individual and organisational concern. With the aggregate economic cost of workplace safety incidents, injuries and fatalities in Australia amounting to $60.6 billion in the 2008-09 period (SWA, 2014), it is evident that safety events are still a regular part of working life. Moreover, this is likely a conservative estimation of the cost, as factors such as workers compensation premiums, or other organisational (e.g., legal costs, fines, damaged reputation, turnover, presenteeism, recruiting and training), individual (i.e., reduced quality of life, mental health, degraded relationships) and social (i.e., reliance on community support and rehabilitation services) impacts related to injury were excluded from the calculation. Such effects are difficult to quantify yet undoubtedly significantly inflate the cumulative damage. Given the human and organisational impacts involved in safety incidents, effective safety and risk interventions are imperative.

    In recent times, there has been a shift away from traditional behavioural approaches to safety risk management and a trend toward applying neuroscientific (or neuropsychological) principles. The field of neuroscience is interested in understanding and explaining brain development and function, and how these interact to elicit, shape and sustain behaviour. Where other behavioural or psychological models of safety intervention simply rely on overt behavioural observation to draw conclusions about safety attitudes, beliefs and behaviour, the strength of modern neuroscience lies in its ability to provide unambiguous and accurate evidence into innate neurological drivers for behaviour. It achieves this through the use of functional neuroimaging techniques, such as functional magnetic image resonance (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) (Ashbury, 2011). These technologies graphically dissect and pinpoint regions of neurological activity allowing direct observation and explanation for how the brain functions and reacts when presented with stimuli. Through the introduction of these technologies, we now have the capacity to infer, with a higher degree of accuracy, that what is going on inside the brain is correlated with, or causal to, external behaviour (Pallay, 2011).

    What does the brain really have to do with safety? The more we understand how the brain functions, the more able we are to influence those factors critical to safety behaviour. Neuroscience provides the technology for deeper exploration into behaviour by investigating the various layers of the mind that are crucial to shaping and maintaining positive attitudes to, and belief in, safety. It signifies that we need to develop safety programs to work with, rather than against, the brains natural mode of functioning to maximise our safety performance. We need to recognise the key neurological drivers of safety and risk behaviour for sustainable and embedded safety outcomes.

    Neuroscience is a multi-field discipline, offering many areas of exploration for understanding human behaviour. Within safety environments, one of the most useful fields to draw on is that of social neuroscience, which investigates the vital role that social needs and human relationships have in shaping behaviour. Complexity Management Theory (CMT) and Relationship Psychology (RP) argue that because change is dynamic, static safety approaches (i.e., compliance based strategies) fail to have long-term influence over peoples safety priorities. Instead, CMT and RP postulate that peoples interactions and relationships with others, as well as other core social needs, are stronger predictors of safety behaviour (Carillo, 2012). The more we understand about the core social needs of our people and their impact on behaviour, the more able we are to shape positive attitudes to, and belief in, safety and develop safety strategies to build the structure of a positive safety culture (PSC).

    2. Brain Science behind Behaviour The SCARF Model

    The field of social neuroscience is extensive. David Rock (2008, 2009), a thought-leader in the field, has consolidated the research into a viable and practical framework for understanding the key social motivators of behaviour. This framework can be applied across a broad spectrum of organisational contexts such as leadership, culture and safety management. His model is known as SCARF and relates to five key domains status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.

    There are two underlying principles behind Rocks SCARF model that explain human behaviour. The first principle is that behaviour and social interaction is governed by the need to minimise threat and maximise reward. The second principle is that social needs are treated in the same way as that of core basic needs, such as breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping.

  • Proceedings 19th Triennial Congress of the IEA, Melbourne 9-14 August 2015


    2.1 Principle 1 Minimise Threat/Maximise Reward

    The principle of minimising threat and maximising reward is largely an unconscious survival mechanism that arises from exposure to any stimuli in our environment. The brain is constantly scanning stimuli for threat (bad stimuli) or reward (positive stimuli), triggering an avoid (threat) or approach (reward) response. Rock states that certain components of the brain are responsible for storing messages about what is good or bad and activates a chemical or neuronal response in other regions to determ