Driving Unsafe Behaviours Underground

Driving Unsafe Behaviours Underground



By now everyone would have heard about the 15 underground mining workers in WA sacked by Barminco (the mining contractor working for mine owners Gold Fields) for their 30 second video of the “Harlem Shake”. In their letter of dismissal Barminco is reported as saying that the stunt breached the company’s "core values of safety, integrity and excellence". Barminco probably thought it had little choice in taking such decisive action but the decision has polarised opinion in the same way that sacking workers for “planking” did last year.

Sure in industries such as mining there have to be very strict safety rules in place and consequences for breaching them. However, if the “core values” are so inherently enshrined how could this have happened? If that were the case then surely the employees involved would have been well aware of the risks involved in such behaviour, decided they and their fellow workers would not be harmed, had appropriate controls in place (there were all wearing helmets in the video)  and decided that there was nothing too unsafe about their little stunt, intended to “let off steam” and improve morale. Thus further reinforcing the holistic positive company culture.

Punishment for bad behaviour does not always guarantee it will not be repeated. Given that humans are emotional, thinking, creative, individuals, punishment usually only results in resentment and hostility toward the punisher. This destroys morale and has a detrimental affect on performance. Where there is little extrinsic motivation and positive reward then the intrinsic motivators inside of us all may cause employees to repeat the same “mistakes”, as a challenge to anyone trying to take away their individuality and control, only next time taking greater risk and going to much more effort to avoid getting caught!

I recall hearing stories told by prisoners of war where they recalled that their poor treatment and severe punishment made them much more motivated and inspired to take greater escape risks rather than suppress the desire. Different scenario I know but the same in a lot of ways.

Another interesting article below from the “Safety Differently” blog about the incident:

What about the idiots?

However, people are not machines. They are not passive recipients of instructions. In fact, attempts to control people often backfire: We consistently demand to create our own take on things. When given orders, we become defiant. And when handed down a predefined way of doing things, we reject or are sceptical about its applied usefulness. People’s free will and creativity are hugely problematic to fit into a machine like version of organising work.

When faced with this problem, when having a difference between how we want people to behave, and how they actually perform, we have a choice.

We can look for the answer with the people who deviated. We can look for their lack of commitment, motivation or their lack of sense of responsibility. We can call them idiots, or we may bridge the gap with other judgmental labels that call for further constraints. Put differently, we can engage in single loop learning: information about a system’s performance deviations is used to guide corrective actions – we can strive to ensure the desired ideal.


Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below