6 Tips to Effectively Change Behaviors in Safety

Changing employee behavior is challenging. Especially when it comes to following safety regulations. Although difficult, we still try to do so because the success of our safety programs heavily relies on employee behavior.

So, in this short article, let’s talk about 6 tips that I’ve found effective in changing employee behavior. Let’s dive into it!

Train Employees in a Memorable Way

When we want to change the behavior of our employees, we always think about training them. And that is the right direction to take. However, how we train them also matters. Don’t expect that they’ll change their behavior after watching a training video or listening to a speaker while looking at slideshow presentations.

No. Employees need more than that. They’ll need to have training that they will definitely remember. So, you’ll need to get creative if you want them to remember the training. For example, you can try role-playing, hands-on scenarios, or live demonstrations.

Assign Trained Employees to Train Others

Teaching others is the best way to fully understand a subject. But, it does more than that. Teaching a subject also makes you change your behavior based on what you are teaching.

With that in mind, letting an employee train others is a great way to change their behavior. So, choose the employee who doesn’t change their behavior as the trainer. This way, you’re hitting two birds with one stone. You’re training others while effectively changing the behavior of the problematic employee.

Make Behavior Assessments a Game

Humans are competitive by nature. So, people tend to want to have better results than others. And you can use this to your advantage by making the results of the behavior assessments public.

To do so, create a list of behavioral scores per department or per team depending on your setup. And then, post those results on the bulletin boards or places where they will be noticeable. And then, to make it more competitive, give out rewards to those who are top-performing. This way, you’ll bring out the competitiveness of the employees. Or at the least, those less-active employees will avoid becoming the reason for having low results.

Share Safety Horror Stories

Dark as it may sound, fear is a great tool for changing behavior. And you can use that to your advantage. Horror stories of accidents in the workplace can motivate employees because they don’t want to be the next victim.

OSHA can be a great source of these stories. If you can’t find a matching workplace accident that you need, which I doubt based on the large database of OSHA, you can go to the websites of well-known lawyers and legal firms.

Create Safety Groups

When accidents happen, we tend to blame an individual for it. And because of this, we overlook a very important point, which is the accident is not a problem of an individual. It is a group problem. Anyone from the group might become the next victim of the same accident.

To instill this point in everyone, creating safety groups is essential. And for this group to become functional, you’ll need to provide them with directions on how to conduct reviews and learning materials. This way, they’ll see it from your point of view rather than their individual perspective.

Coach Stragglers One-on-One

The truth is, no matter how much effort we put into changing employee behavior, there will always be stragglers. Employees who don’t follow safety regulations. And most of the time, these stragglers are the senior employees who have stayed for decades inside the company. The only way to convince these stragglers is to coach them one-on-one.

During coaching, you’ll need to understand why they don’t follow regulations. For example, they usually think they’re experienced enough to be caught in an accident. Or, due to their tenure, they aren’t really afraid of consequences anymore. Once you’ve understood where they’re coming from, you need to prepare a sound argument that will convince them to change their behaviors.

Take Action

Anyway, these are just some of the things that I’ve found helpful in changing employee behavior throughout my years of career in safety. If you want to learn more about this topic, you can check out the Safety Management Academy.

6-Step Process to Changing Behaviors in Safety

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Well, hey there, safety friends. I know that we always talk about changing behaviors, and I truly believe that understanding how behaviors are formed and changed is crucial to being successful in safety management. But today, what I want to do is give you six practical tips, almost in a step by step process, that you can try out starting today to change the behaviors in your workplace and get your people working safer.

Let's get to it.

Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to The Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent, CSP and 20 year safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again, I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At The Safety Geek,

you will learn how to manage an effective safety [00:01:00] program that increases your management support and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader. You're in the right place. Let's get to it.

Today, I wanted to give you six practical tips that you can start trying out today. They're almost like in a step by step process to start changing the behaviors in your workplace and get them working safer. But before we get started, if we haven't met yet, my name is Brye Sargent. I'm a CSP and I am a total safety geek.

I have been working in the safety profession for over 25 years. And now I spend all of my time coaching and training workplace safety managers, just like you, how to create effective and efficient safety programs to help them advance their

[00:02:00] careers. Now, before we can actually talk about changing behaviors, first, we need to identify the behaviors that we want to change.

And this means getting very specific. So you can't just say, hey, I want people to lift properly. What specifically do you want them to do? You know, you want them to approach the item straight on. You want them to grab it firmly with two hands. Maybe you want them to bend their knees and bow out their back and then lift in a singular fluid motion, keeping the product close to their body, right?

Those are the very specific behaviors that you might be looking for. So what I want you to do is look at your data and clearly articulate the correct behavior that you want to see for whatever you want to use to try out this method of changing behaviors. Next, before we get started, you need to have a baseline.

We need to know our starting point, right? So if you're trying to change your behavior, how do you know the technique that you're using is actually

[00:03:00] working? So let's get a baseline on how they are currently doing before you even try any of these tactics, okay? So do an assessment on the current behavior in your workplace.

I know that I've talked about assessments before, so if you need some help on that, I'll link to the episode, the podcast, or the blog post. That I have done on assessments previously. So go check that out. Now, here's the thing about behavior change. Behavior change is different based on the person and the situation.

I can't just give you one tactic to change behaviors and it's going to work for everybody. So what you need to do is like try things out for different people. Now, there are ways to change behavior that may change multiple people's behaviors. So the idea is that we start with the techniques that will change the most behaviors and then we narrow it down and get down to the one on one of like what specifically would get them to change, okay? So out of all of these

[00:04:00] techniques I'm giving you, what you need to do is just try one, measure the results against your baseline, And identify who isn't changing their behavior and then try a different tactic on those people who haven't changed their behavior. So, for example, let's say that you use my proper lifting as an example and you do an assessment.

And your assessment shows that 70 percent of the time they are, you know, moving their feet while they're transporting their load. You know, whatever it happens to be, if they lift something up and they go to put it down, they're not twisting while they're lifting, they actually move their feet. Let's use that as our tip.

So you follow these steps and then you go back and measure it and now you can see that half the people are doing it and half the people aren't. So know who those half are so that way you can try the next tip and go, Hey, did this work on those people? So when you go do your next measurement, you just measure those people, right? So the whole idea is just to kind of get an idea of what's working.

[00:05:00] And identify who's changing behavior and who's not and not to pinpoint them out and it's more of like for a measurement so that way, you know, whether or not something is working because you don't just want to throw spaghetti at the wall and hope that something sticks.

You want to actually know, like, this technique worked because if it works with whatever behavior you're testing, like proper lifting. It'll likely work for lockout tag out. It'll likely work for machine guarding. It'll likely work for hazard communication. Whatever safe work practice you're doing, you can then have a process of how you actually get those behaviors to change.

Alrighty, so that's all your pre work. You got to have your specific behavior, you got to have your baseline results, and you have to understand how we're measuring success. All right, so tip number one or tactic number one What you're going to do is first make sure everybody is trained on the correct behavior. I know, you've been doing training for a while. You've been like training out the

[00:06:00] wazoo in order to get them to change their behavior and they're not. But let's kind of make a twist on this training. Let's do some training that is done in a very memorable way. And I do have a document on this. That you can find in the all access resource page.

If you're on my email list, you have access to that page If you aren't on my email list just go to thesafetygeek.com/5ways And I'll send you a link to that page, but it's on there and it's called like something about the five ways to make people crazy for safety or something like that.

It's got a funky name, but in it is ways to actually make your training memorable. So what you don't want to do is say, Hey, I've trained them because I showed them this video or I trained them because I showed them this PowerPoint. You need to do something that's like role playing. Role playing is one of

the key ways to make your training memorable. We all hate to do it, but it's actually one of the best training techniques out there. You can also do physical examples of what you're wanting

[00:07:00] them to do, like take them out. If we're doing lifting, taking them out to where they would be lifting the product and do an example of them lifting the product properly or any shocking demonstration.

So You see this with fall protection a lot, hazard communication, things like that, where you can do some shocking demonstrations that, hey, you have to do it this way or this awful thing can happen or this surprising thing can happen. Whenever you make your training memorable, it's a lot easier to change that behavior because one of the reasons people stick in their old ways is not just complacency, but it's just habit.

And in order to change the habit, you have to get them to change that belief and they have to see things in a different way. So you just going on and on with a toolbox talk or a PowerPoint or anything like that is not going to get them to change. So switch something up in your training, make it memorable, and that will be tip one. And then after you do that, do a measurement to see how well that behavior change

[00:08:00] stuck. Okay. Now tip number two, I want you to select two, one or two employees, and ask them to do a follow up training. So let's say that you were doing a proper lifting demonstration training and then you were measuring your results.

You would pick one or two people, preferably people that didn't change their behavior. And ask them to lead a follow up training. This would be something that they would do maybe at their pre shift meeting, at a, at a team meeting, at warm up for work time, something where everybody's together. You give them all the tools to be successful.

You talk them through it, you stand by them as they do it, but you want employees to actually give this training and ask them to share stories like things they've heard or things they've experienced. So have a little discussion with them beforehand. It only has to be, you know, a 5 to 10 minute training. But when you have employees do it,

[00:09:00] it switches your training up, but then guess what? These two employees that hadn't changed their behavior, they're now teaching it. And one of the best ways to change a belief is to actually teach the new belief. It's almost like the best way to learn something is to teach it.

Well, the reason why is because in order for you to teach it, you're having to internalize all that information. So now you've at least switched two people, but those people are more influential than you because they're just like the people that they're talking to. So that's tip number two. All right.

Next is you should be doing regular assessments. If you are a member of Safety Management Academy, you know, that is something I preach in there all the time as your best tool. But what you want to do is make sure that you are sharing those results of the assessment. So you focus your assessments on whatever behavior change you're currently working on and you split your assessments up by either department or area. So you're automatically creating little teams and little pockets of teams. And

[00:10:00] then when you share the results, it's automatically going to create a competition with the employees that are in there. They're going to see these results. Maybe you post them in on a bulletin board. You post them on a monitor.

Maybe I used to put them on little table tents in the break room, wherever it happens to be, you post those results. People automatically see like, wow, my department's getting a C grade, but that area is getting an A grade. And then if you update those results regularly, because you're doing assessments regularly.

It's going to start that competition thing that's in our brains because humans love competition, believe it or not, everybody does even the people that say oh, no, I don't like to compete because i'm one of those people I don't like to compete. I compete against myself, right? I'm like that. But when you start seeing it out there everywhere you automatically you're like, well I don't want to be the one that's going to bring my team down So i'm going to make sure I do that behavior. So you get a little of fear of missing out you get a little of you know like hey, I don't want to be

[00:11:00] the bad guy in it. So try that out and then afterwards measure your results and see how it's going and you should be measuring them because you're sharing the results all the time.

All right. Tip number four, I want you to go out and find some horror stories. I want you to find where this poor behavior actually resulted in somebody getting seriously injured or hurt. You can scour OSHA, you can scour lawyer websites, you can scour Google. There's always going to be stories somewhere of somebody who was in something shocking, some sort of shocking accident where they got a lawsuit or there was a big OSHA fine that could be related to the same behavior that you're trying to get them to change.

So for example, in my workplace where this worked really, really well was having them, um, the way that they loaded the trailers and getting a pedestrian walkway. We weren't having pedestrian incidents, so nobody really thought much about

[00:12:00] it, but it was something I was nervous about. And I shared a story of how a worker actually got asphyxiated because they got squished between two pallets.

And the forklift operator never even knew there was a person there. And when I shared that story and all I did was share a link to it and I kind of put a summary in the newsletter and I shared it with the supervisors for them to share at their pre shift meetings. Everybody's eyes opened up like I never even thought that could happen.

And it was a very similar workplace. So it ended up hitting home a little bit more. So if you can find something that's in your same industry, that works really well too. Doesn't have to be like super devastating. Even if you can find somebody who was like, Hey, I lifted improperly all my life and now I'm in my forties and I can barely walk.

And this is why. So you'll find those blogs and those stories out there if you search hard enough for them. So share those and having those shared stories actually gets people to change their beliefs, which will

[00:13:00] automatically get them to change their behavior. Now, at this point, in these four tactics that I've shared with you, we're pretty much addressing like big scale.

You're, you're doing it with everybody. It's to get the low hanging fruit of behavior change, I guess you can say. But now I want to give you a couple tips on getting the stragglers because you're always going to have a couple stragglers that just refuse to change what they're doing, right? So tip number five is creating a small working group on safety issues.

So it's almost like my episode where, where we talked about creating a Kaizen. So create a small work group and say, Hey, I want you guys to review the safety issues. You can tell them the goal is to stop blaming the person, right? Cause that's what everybody does. It's an attribution error. We automatically blame the person as being doing something wrong instead of the situation that created them to do that behavior. And then we want them

[00:14:00] to see the behavior as an issue. So that's that's what you kind of like put in their minds as they're looking at everything. You know, hey, we want to stop blaming the person We want to look at what behavior and why did they do that behavior? And how can we make sure they don't do those behaviors?

So it's not necessarily like an accident investigation where you're like, what can we as a company do? To stop accidents from happening, which is usually an engineering control or something like that. It's about figuring out why somebody does a behavior, right? So then what you have them do in this small working group is review accidents that are related to that behavior and ask them without seeing the accident investigation to come up with their own root causes and their own corrective actions related to behavior.

Like, why did they do this behavior? You can also have them, instead of doing accident reviews, you can have them review JHAs that are related to the behavior and say, look, you know, we're not sure if these JHAs are working or if they're accurate. This is the goal of a JHA. Can you

[00:15:00] please review it and update it? You can work with them on developing training or awareness materials or improvement programs. You can show them the trending data and say, Hey, we as a small Kaizen, we want to work on creating improvement programs, right? And the idea is that the people that you have in this group are a mixture of like half the people that aren't doing it right.

Maybe half the people that are doing it right. So you get them working together as a team. To try to get those stragglers that are still doing the behavior. You can even share assessment results with them and say, how can we improve these assessment results, right? And the last tip to get those stragglers is 1 on 1 coaching.

It is literally going up to each individual person and talking to them as an equal. And discussing with them like what you're worried about, what you're seeing, and maybe even at this point it might be like the fairness that everybody else is doing it right and they're not, but what I like to share with them is like other people are watching you,

[00:16:00] you're likely experienced, especially if it is an experienced person, you're likely experienced, you're likely going to be fine.

But other people are watching you and they're learning from you. So wouldn't it be awful if somebody followed your lead and they got hurt? That type of thing. You see this a lot with senior employees that have been there for a long time, you know, the 20, 30 years. And they're so experienced and to them, they're like, Oh, those accidents are going to happen.

These cuts are going to happen. People are going to break fingers or strain backs, you know, but getting them to understand that that doesn't have to be the case anymore. Our technology is way better, but people are watching you, you know, you might not be worried if you break a finger, but a 20 year old is.

And then another trick that I like to do on my one on one coaching is saying, Hey, I'd love for you to try it for a day. Just all I'm asking you is try it for a day or try it for two hours, right? And then I'm going to come back and check in with

[00:17:00] you. So this works really well with proper lifting because so many people think that the way they're lifting is more efficient and easier and all of that.

But what they don't realize is it's causing them to go home tired and sore and in pain. And that just builds up over time. So when you get them to try it your way, maybe moving things further apart to force them to take the steps and not twist or have them take that extra time and they realize like

they were just as productive as always, maybe even more so, and they felt better at the end of the day. They weren't as tired, right? So doing that, like, please just try it and then let me check in with you. Okay, then now try it for two days and let me check in. And you could be my case study as if this procedure works, right?

You can even play in those words with them. It's like, hey, as you're doing this, I'm recording all of this down because you're my case study for me to help develop training for new employees. Whatever it happens to be. So

[00:18:00] those are six steps. And as you can see, even though they're all individual tactics, I kind of feel like they play together in a process.

You know, training, follow up training, assessments, you know, getting employees more involved. And honestly, there's tons of ways that you can change behaviors in the workplace. These are just six of them, but it is a very good start to changing behaviors. But what I want you to remember as you are trying this out is that behavior change comes slowly and it comes from a change of an internal belief.

This is why some people take forever to change their behaviors and some people, they do it on, on a dime, right? It's because it's however quickly that internal belief can change is how quickly the behavior will change. And there is a time for disciplinary action as well and, and yes, you know, giving them write up and holding them accountable to following policies and procedures. It is going to

[00:19:00] work. It definitely, in the short term, all research has shown that negative reinforcement does work in the short term. But the goal is to get them to do their actions safely without a threat, without you being there, without them worried about their job, and to keep that positive relationship.

With that employee, and it only happens when they believe inside their head, like their internal belief is that following your JHA or following your safe work practice is the right way to do it and the best way to do it. So as you're looking at behavior change, you need to always consider am I creating that internal belief and am I going to get them to believe the way that I do.

This is what influencers do. So try it out. I would love to hear how it works for you in the comments. Um, if you haven't subscribed to the Podcast and YouTube channel

[00:20:00] yet, be sure that you do. We're trying to get on the schedule of updating every two weeks. So please subscribe and I will see you in the next one. Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Understanding the Importance of Behavior Change in Safety Management
  • Helpful Tactics On Changing Behaviors and Achieving a Strong Safety Culture
  • How to Define the Specific Behaviors That Need Changing in the Workplace
  • Recognizing That Behavior Change Varies Among Individuals and Situations
  • The Importance of Influencing Internal Beliefs and Suggesting a Positive Approach Over Disciplinary Actions.


There are numerous approaches to address behavior changes, and these six steps serve as a solid starting point. It’s crucial to remember that behavior changes gradually, coming from an internal shift in belief.

While disciplinary action may yield short-term results, the ultimate goal is to have employees perform actions safely without the need for threats. This occurs when they genuinely believe that the safe approach is the correct and preferred method.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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