Looking at Behavioural Safety – how do the small actions matter?

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 012

Oct 10, 2022

In this episode...

In Episode 009, we discussed the provocative topic of whether your site safety board is psychologically safe and continue the conversation today by discussing how small actions/things matter when looking at

Behavioural Safety and how small things matter

Consider this, you walk into a new restaurant, excited to try them out.  Then you notice that the tablecloths are stained and dirty, or the water glass has fingerprints (or even worse, remnants of someone's lipstick) on it.

You start to think that maybe you should go see what the state of the bathroom is before even considering eating there - and then leave because you don't trust that what is going to come out of the kitchen is hygienic, clean or safe to eat.

So when you think about these things and bring it back into the world of safety (behavioural safety), into the world of high-hazard and high-reliability industries, we ask the questions:

  • What does safety look and feel like when we’re not looking at statistics and numbers?
  • How do we actually see the attitudes and behaviours of people towards safety?
  • What behaviours, actions, and tell-tale visible signs do you see that show whether people care or whether they are only complying with the minimum requirements?
  • What do you think about the professionalism and service delivery of a company, department or rig/site/workspace that is untidy/dirty?

What is the first impression someone is going to have when walking into your environment, wherever that is?

  • What are they seeing? 
  • What are they feeling? 
  • What are they smelling?

When you arrive somewhere, can you discern the intrinsic culture through people’s actions or lack thereof? Which things are going to stand out that will make us ask:

  • Do I trust this organisation and people to give me good service?
  • And will they deliver on the promise of what they say they will do?
  • Are they professional? 
  • Are they prepared to take shortcuts?
  • Do they care about the overall team, culture or outcome?

The Broken Window Theory

We share the ‘Broken Window Theory’ proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, which used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighbourhoods. We discuss how their theory links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime.

What happens when we are not consistent with expected behavioural safety, or we let things slide?  Are we inviting in broken windows? 

Looking at Behavioural Safety - The Broken Window Theory
Broken windows of the Stehli Silk Mill in Manheim Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania By Smallbones - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33749767

So how does this relate to the world of behavioural safety?

What things have we just walked past thinking, I don't want to deal with this today, so I will just ignore it because it is someone else's job.

The cigarette butts around the ashtray in the smoking area, the empty plastic water bottles left in different work areas, the greasy marks from dirty gloves on the tables in the communal kitchen, the coffee machine that hasn't been cleaned and the locker rooms you don't really want to change in because it's not clean.

These are some of the things that start showing up. It's not in our statistics nor in our numbers however it is having an impact on them and our safety culture.  They start to become the way we do things around here and often become 'unwritten rules' (the topic of discussion in our upcoming podcast Episode 13).

  • When looking at behavioural safety, how do small actions matter? 
  • What do they say about the safety culture and organisational way of being? 
  • Are they unwritten rules?

Have you been experiencing an increase in incidents?

If you are at a stage where you are starting to have an increase in incidents or people are not working as well together, it may be worth taking a step back and looking at these potentially (seen as insignificant) small things and how they are actually having an impact on the bigger things - your behavioural safety.

What kinds of conversations are you having, and how are you having them? How are you asking people to be accountable for their space and the space around them? What requests are you putting forward? Are slippery promises being made? "You promise to clean up next time, but thanks for doing it for me."

Is a Team Agreement in place that sets the base expectations for behavioural safety, and what compliance needs to be in place so all involved can move into a culture of care?

Are you exceeding expectations? And what are the boundaries?

How do you encourage the culture you want 

How do you lead by example without removing personal accountability? And what does leading by example actually look like?

[Nuala] I recently heard of a company man walking into the kitchen - with a whole lot of people standing around - and saying, "this is not how I like things" and then proceeded to start cleaning up, wiping down surfaces, making sure the coffee filters were cleaned and refilling the coffee machine by putting water in it.

The people standing around asked him why he was doing it because the catering crew would come and do it.

His answer was, "I am doing it because I would like to make myself a cup of tea however I cannot do that in a dirty environment as it does not sit well with me.  This is my expectation, so the next time I walk into the kitchen and  you are standing here I expect that you will have left it in a way that I am happy to come and make my cup of tea".  

As a leader, do you visibly mentor and coach, helping people and showing them how to clean up around their area and why it is essential?

  • Do you build trust and rapport?
  • Do you take pride and recognise the behaviours you exhibit and want to see in others?
  • Do you accept Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence? ~ PRIDE

Emotional Gem

We, humans, are emotional beings, and at the end of each session, our gift to you is an insight into an emotion.

Did you know that we have over 250 emotions? Yet, we only understand or talk about +/- 12. By exploring these, you may be surprised at what you learn.

Karin has been studying Emotional Literacy with Dan Newby, the founder of the School of Emotions and references emotional literacy regularly during her coaching conversations.

Today's Emotional Gem is... PRIDE

  • Story: I did something good and want to tell others
  • Impulse: (what action does it trigger in us?) To tell others what I have done
  • Purpose: Allows us to tell others about the good things we have done

Pride allows us to share our accomplishments so that others can know what we value accomplishing in life. Pride is often confused with the emotion of Arrogance. The difference is that Pride is the emotion that lets you show how I feel about things I have done and is non-comparative. Arrogance is based on comparing myself with others and the belief I am superior or that they are inferior. If you steer clear of comparison, pride will serve you well.

Feel safe in taking Pride in all the good things you do. Whether it be picking up that lone piece of rubbish or helping another to do the same.

Similar feeling emotions are Arrogance, Dignity, Happiness and Satisfaction


We use the iPhone app Emote: Mastering Your Emotions to select the Emotional Gem for each episode. To learn more about emotional literacy and access the app visit the School of Emotions

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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