You know how I geek out over psychology just as much as I do safety. One of the most interesting topics I found during my studies was the adult learning principles of operant and conditioned learning. I immediately related them to how they can be used to improve safe work behaviors.
I’m not talking directly about the different ways adults learn, but more about the psychology of learning – what studies have shown works best.
CREATING SAFETY HABITS IS SIMILAR TO CONDITIONED LEARNING
Habits are actions we take without even thinking about them. They are so wired in our brain, that they are done on cruise-control. Like brushing your teeth, for example.
To create a habit you need a trigger, an action (the habit), and a reward.
In safety, we want to build safety habits. We want employees to follow safety rules without even thinking about it. For it to be uncomfortable not to follow those rules.
In this episode, we talk about the discovery by Pavlov and conditioned learning, how it works and how it is related to habit formation. I don’t mean to compare employees to Pavlov’s dog, but we can glean a lot from looking at the experiment through a safety lens.
Habits take a long time to form – forget everything you have heard about 21 days or 90 days.
To push the habit-building to go faster, we can use operant learning.
BEHAVIOR BASED SAFETY AND OPERANT LEARNING
BBS is a method of safety training that focuses on positive reinforcement. It has been shown that when you have positive coaching sessions with employees, they change their work behaviors; and this change is long-lasting.
This is different than the old style of writing employees up or disciplining them for safety violations. In BBS we’ve seen that doesn’t work.
Both of these methods are adult learning principles at work: Operant Learning.
It is a method of using reinforcement to change behavior. Studies have been conducted on both positive and negative, as well as the frequency of both, to determine what works best.
Be sure to listen to this week’s episode to learn more.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
I bet you find this just as interesting as I do. Please tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment on this post. If you want to dive deeper into the research, I put some links below.
Highlights From This Episode:
- How habits are formed
- What Conditioned learning is – Pavlov
- What Operant Learning is – Behavior-Based Safety
- Using this information to do your job better
- How to change employee’s bad safety habits
- Read about the studies on Operant Learning
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- 5 Surprising Ways to Make Employees Crazy for Safety
Hi, I’m Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. I train and coach new safety managers on how to effectively do their jobs in the real world. I specialize in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture. I would love to help you do the same.