Stop, this is an intervention!

Welcome to our latest Awesome Author, Dave Whitefield, from People and Risk. I first came across Dave’s work 3 years ago when he wrote Zero Harm – Just Say No!. It’s a real thrill to now have him writing on this blog, as well as getting to know him personally as a fellow member of the Brisbane Safety and Risk Thinking Group. I know he would really appreciate your feedback.

Stop, this is an intervention!

Crossing Guard Full Body IsolatedI was recently participating in some spirited debate on LinkedIn around the topic of how to maintain interest in the safety conversation/observation process associated with BBS programs. Anyway, while I was caught up in trying to get my point across, it occurred to me that the process itself is misnamed. What’s more, I think everyone kind of knows it but isn’t aware of it.

So, to explain in a bit more detail. First up, I think the process referred to as a “safety conversation” is actually a “safety intervention”. Second, I think people feel that there is a disconnect between the label and the process, but it’s not something that is spoken about.

On the first point, the reason they are really interventions and not conversations is because there is so much focus on the behaviour, not the interaction. It’s all about the right or wrong (let’s be honest, it’s nearly always wrong) behaviours and the agreement on the correct behaviour for the future. There is no focus on just seeking understanding, it’s all about correcting people and keeping score.

Importantly though, it’s not just the people involved that are causing this. It is the systemizing and measuring that does it. It primes people to focus on the outcome. We don’t measure the quality of the conversation, we measure the number of observations (interventions) done.

To the second point, I feel that people sense the disconnect between the passive sounding label (a conversation) and what is actually a very active process. It’s naturally uncomfortable for many people to confront someone about their behaviour, but it doesn’t sound like it should be uncomfortable.

As a thought exercise, imagine if we actually called it an intervention? Imagine how it would be framed? Imagine having a KPI of having to perform 10 safety interventions a month? Imagine how you would feel when someone comes up and says- “Hi, I’m just here to do a safety intervention”.

Ironically, it wouldn’t make it any easier, but at least people wouldn’t feel the disconnect.

My recommendations are simple:

  1. Stop it! Don’t do “Safety Interventions”. Oh, and resist the urge to have to replace it. We seem OK at identifying things that don’t work, but we seem reluctant to get rid of it because we seem to have a pathological fear of stopping safety related activities;
  2. Call it what it is – If you are going to have an intervention process based on people observing and then talking to other people with a view that they will correct unsafe behaviour, then call it a “Safety Intervention”; and
  3. Resist systemising and measuring – If you have no procedure that dictates how you do it, what outcome you must achieve, or how many you have done, this removes the focus being on the outcome. You let people have conversations with no outcome except to have a conversation. People can be curious.

Imagine where conversations were not systemized or measured, and where the ultimate goal of a conversation was simply to seek to understanding, not to change.

Dave Whitefield

Dave Whitefield
After 20 years in safety and training, I now focus primarily on the human side of safety. I help clients tackle their wicked problems through seeking to understand how people organise in response to uncertainty, and how they make sense of risk. I do this through consulting, coaching, training and workshop design and delivery, MC'ing events and conferences, and delivery of keynote presentations.

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