ABC's of Safety: Actions, Beliefs and Consequences - Diane Dick

A key question many organizations as themselves is: How do people behave and does their behavior present a safety risk?

24 July 2012

ABC’s of Safety Behavior: Actions, Beliefs and Consequences

Diane Dick

Today’s expert blogger is Diane Dick, Consultant Manager, Intertek. Diane is based in Houston, TX.  

A key question many organizations as themselves is: How do people behave and does their behavior present a safety risk? While the answer is simple, it is not always easy:  It is not only the act in doing something that causes injury – but also the failure to act when an intervention is needed.

Why is behavior at the workplace so important?

At-risk behaviors cause an average of 97 percent of accidents. A person may repeat an at-risk or unsafe behavior 1,000 times and not be hurt, but eventually an injury will occur as a result of the unsafe behavior.  And the challenge becomes, those 1,000 times they have gotten away with the behavior and not gotten hurt, strengthens the belief that “nothing bad will happen”.  This belief drives them to continue taking risks. 

People take risks for multiple reasons:

  • They get their job done faster or easier.
  • They don’t believe anything bad will happen (“It won’t happen to me”)
  • The behavior is reinforced or rewarded.
  • They are not aware of the risk.
  • They get a bit of an adrenaline rush to see how far, and how fast they can accomplish a task.

ABC’s of Behavior

The ABC’s are just that – basic steps to helping explain and understand behaviors in order to determine why employees choose to act in a certain way. The model looks at Actions, Beliefs, and Consequences.

1. Actions

Observe the action.  What is this person doing that could cause harm or what is the person doing that ensures his safety?   Behavior is visible action. It does not include things you cannot see such as someone's attitude or thoughts.  They are not judgments or perceptions.  They are behaviors that can be seen and identified.  It is important to observe both positive actions as well as at-risk behaviors.  Human nature focuses on the negative, but identifying the specific actions that keep us safe continually reinforces those for long-term success. 

2. Beliefs

Peoples’ beliefs greatly influence behaviors when it involves safety.  Think about the jobs you do around the house.  Do you wear safety glasses when you mow the lawn?  Do you put the safety guards in place when you are working with power tools?  Why or Why not?  We all have our “reasons” for what we do.  Most of the time we really don’t believe anything bad is going to happen.  If I believe that I wont get hurt, my tendency will be to take risks or shortcuts.

3. Consequences

Consequences are what happen after the behavior – reward or punishment. Past consequences become influencers to future behavior. Most people do not want to suffer the "consequences" of their behavior.  When people understand and believe in the potential consequence, behavior starts to change.  The motivating consequence is different for people.  The impact an injury has on them personally or their family is important.  For others, losing their job, or having a consequence directly impact their social life is more important and can lead to behavior change.   The point is, we are all motivated differently.  So understanding the motivations for safety in our people becomes important for long-term behavior change. 

However, consequences also can be positive and those (positive) consequences are highly effective in producing a desired behavior.  Reinforcing positive actions/behaviors is a more pro-active approach to safety.  Catching people doing things right.  The great reason to focus on positive behaviors is this: It doesn’t cost money; it doesn’t take any extra time; and there is no paperwork involved.  It does take effort, though.


When we take a risk, one of three things will happen: 

  1. Nothing happens.  And when we get away with it, therefore strengthening our belief that it is safe.
  2. An incident occurs:  We suffer the consequence and learn a lesson afterwards.  “I shouldn’t have done that”
  3. Someone intervenes:  It’s inevitable that someone will commit an at-risk behavior.  So the question becomes, “What should I do when I see it happen?”  There are many safety conversation models out there.  All are fairly similar, but the basic elements are:
  4. Identify the at-risk behavior and discuss
  5. Understand the motivation behind the behavior
  6. Discuss the potential consequences
  7. Agree on a safer alternative

The key to a successful intervention is to discuss the issue.  This means a 2-way conversation not a lecture.  Both parties must be engaged in the discussion and take ownership. The discussion must also come from a care and concern perspective.  You are discussing the issue because you care about the person’s well-being.  It’s hard to argue with these. 

So speak up, take ownership and don’t pass up the opportunity to prevent an incident.  Sometimes it only takes one decision to change a person’s life! 

Do you have a question about how to educate, encourage and implement a more safety-focused behavior within your organization? Leave a comment below and one of our experts will get back to you.