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5 key insights from social psychology and why they are critical to managing risk - Guest Blog

5 Things QHSE Managers Need to Know About People - Webinar Recording In this guest blog, we examine 5 key insights from social psychology and why they are critical to effectively manage risk in your workplace.

Presented by Andrew Thornhill, from IRM Systems of Melbourne, Australia

In this presentation, if you're a QHSE Manager, you're going to get some great advice on five things you need to know about people.

We're going to have a look at 5 things we really need to know about people, if we want to effectively manage QHSE, Quality, Health, Safety, Environment, within the workplace. We'll talk in a moment, a little bit more about "Why today's topic?"

What's been the drivers behind that?

I guess, professional drivers to get good safety outcomes in workplaces and things like that, in my I guess, experience with systems is really triggered some of my re-education. I've got a Master's now in social psychology, which really does shed a lot of insight. We're going to share five key insights. We could have put 100 down, but we'll try and focus that on five today, really around people.

What we should know is when implementing systems the top five issues might challenge some of your thinking.

Hopefully, they'll add value to your understanding of people and in our workplace, and people's responses to our management system as well.

I've got the little visual diagram there of a guy in a forklift. I'm gonna refer to that example today. I will talk about this a little bit further, but I'm going to draw on an example of a near miss in a workplace. What are some of the limitations so we're going to come back to that particular incident or near miss as it was a couple of times in today's session?

I've got another quick question for you. What I want you to do is I'm going to read out a description of Dan, and I want you to tell me who Dan is, and write it down.

So Dan, is a student and he works part-time as a barista. He cares a lot about his appearance, and he enjoys shopping for what he considers to be quality, rather than mainstream clothing. His main mode of transport is a bike. So who's Dan?

Next, what do you think of when you read that statement, "Karen approached the bank". Next don't get your phone out. I want you to tell me on your phone, what's the app you've got in the top right corner of your phone on the top row in the right without looking at it.

Now what I want you to do quickly calculate 19 times 26 and 68 divided by three. I just want you to experience how you feel when you try and answer those questions. Okay, so the design of the previous activities we've been through, what is that about? It's really highlighting that there are different parts of our brain.

We're all aware of that kind of slow, logical, analytical part of our brain. We kind of do our slower thinking, if you like, and that kind of why do we give you those math questions at the end there?

When we get thrown those kinds of questions, we're not jumping to our answers, immediately.

Now, a big part of what we're trying to highlight here is, in what we're calling mind two and three, there's a whole lot of processing our brain does. How do we interpret information? How do we respond to situations? How do we make decisions in the workplace?

A lot of that is happening in our fast that part of our brain. If you like that kind of automatic, quick, intuitive, kind of thinking that we do almost there's an evolutionary sight of that for dangerous situations where we need to make immediate, short, sharp decisions.

What we sometimes are not that aware of, perhaps in our current approaches to compliances, we're doing this as part of our fast side of our mind. That's the kind of mind we're working in all day, and how we're thinking about the job. That's how we work regularly throughout the day.

In our fast mind, we've simply drained all our energy. What it's really trying to highlight is we need to start to understand that our decisions and actions for all of us part of being human, is a lot of that happens unconsciously.

I put in there that there's a lot of social influence there as well, that social psychology is really in essence about, well, how does the presence of others or imagined presence of others affect our kind of decisions, behaviors and actions.

There's a lot of research-based evidence to say that it has a bigger effect than we think. A lot of that is why we don't necessarily recognize that is that's often happening unconsciously as well.

We're aware of that kind of social influence on our choices in the workplace. Why?

1. Our Decisions and Actions are Unconscious and Socially Influenced So number one, if we think about accuracy systems, we often make the assumption that people are doing their working with mind one. We also think about some of our systems and the amount of detail people tend to put in procedures and forms. You're also forcing people back into mind one, just as we did with the math questions for you, which is not really reflective of the way they're doing a lot of their work. Another example of that difference between mine mines one, two, and three, it probably for most of us, is the riskiest activity we're going to do for the rest of the day is - drive home down the highway. Here's the riskiest activity we've got for the day. A lot of what we're doing in mind two and line three, are not set, we're not necessarily calculating everything rationally. Move left arm, 15 degrees to the left in 10 seconds, because I'm going 60 K's an hour. No, we just do stuff all day long. That's how we really work. I'm going to highlight that often in our safety systems, QA and QHSE systems, we only focus on physical hazards like falling objects, fall from heights, confined space, pressure, energy etc. But if you start to track a whole range of incidents, then there's also what you could call secondary or what we call "headspace hazards" as well. If we think about some of the incidents, related to this near miss, you can see some of those headspace hazards on the left-hand side like:

  • overconfidence and

  • desensitized to the risk

  • autopilot.

Equally on the right-hand side, what we call the "group space" or the cultural risks as well. So you can see some examples there groupthink overconfidence at an organisational level, culture, and language, I've highlighted because we're going to talk about those more. Even the kind of values and norms or attitudes in the business, we kind of can-do attitude to business which again, well-meaning part of our Australian psyche, if you're like, we want to get on with a job can do all of that kind of mentality if you like as well-meaning business focus,. They're getting processed in mind two or three.

2. Are Your Biggest Risks in Your Risk Register? Some of your key hazards or risks are perhaps not seen in a typical system. 90% are focused on physical hazards. Understand that physical hazards is foundational in good safety management or information security, management, whatever it might be your food safety management. But, if you want to get better outcomes, you do need to start extending your thinking as well to these other hazards that can and do play a big part in incidents and issues that we are facing. How can we start to identify some of these risks? We need to make sure we're not blaming people for incidents and building trust. So suspending the agendas that we might have. Part of the value of today is to recognize that there are other strong contributing factors in some serious workplace safety incidents. Some really good reading around that is the Pike River disaster in New Zealand. If you read the inquiry reporting to that, they do make a lot of comments around, the culture "groupspace". Was safely taken seriously by management? There was a production focus

3. Language Matters You really need to know is that your language really matters. What we see a lot around some of our systems is language, policies, and statements people are putting forward are well-meaning. But people don't realize that a lot of some of that written stiff you write a policy or some promotional stuff around your safety system we just assume that people interpret all of this and process it through my "mind one" which is slow, analytical, logical and it makes sense. It's well-meaning, but people are processing information in mind two and mind three. The point I'm trying to make here is that the language we're using really matters. It can put us down a pathway that can affect all kinds of participation and willingness to be involved in the system. I'm just coming back to the statement I made earlier, that language is really that underpins our culture. And our culture will determine what kind of behaviours we get in the workforce as well. Fully understanding our culture and how it influences our behaviour. It's pretty complex. But I don't want to simplify it too much.

4. We All Have Cognitive Biases and "Satisfice" We all have cognitive biases and they're not something we can switch on and off. The term satisfies means one of those biases. If we're faced with overwhelming amounts of information and we want to make a decision, there's some kind of a perception out there that we will evaluate all the options and make an optimal choice based on a detailed evaluation. Well, that's great. But only if you've got plenty of time to work it out. The term satisfice recognizes we have limits to our cognitive ability. What humans actually do when faced with too much information is we just take the option that fits the most for our judgment. The most satisfactory option is in "mind two" and in "mind three". Why is this important? This kind of shortcut is happening every day in your workplace. This can lead us to over or underestimate risk. With our QA and QHSE systems, I often see organisations with huge amounts of documentation. There again, there are cognitive limits on how much of that workforce can process this information. To process this they'll take the best available option approach through satisficing. For example, we induct people using a huge number of safe work method statements, and they sign off on it. But do they actually perform their work activities to the documentation? It's a kind of satisficing process and they take the best available option.

5. Perception and Sense-Making If we're looking at that workplace, we all take in information from our senses. What we hear and what we see, etc. But it gets filtered. In understanding people in the workplace, the perception of the risk, and how we make sense of a situation is not necessarily held in common. So if we think of our forklift driver, they may not see perceive what the risks are, or make sense of operational situations exactly the same as everyone else. Why is that important? What might make sense to me then Craig might be making sense of that quite differently. Unfortunately, in some male-dominated industries, you hear all kinds of blaming terms come out.

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