The 5 B’s of Safety Conversion

In his latest article Dr Robert Long looks briefly at each one of the commonly attempted conversion methods to see if the attempted method at the psychology of conversion works. I can think of a 6th B – and it always baffles brains!

You should also read the whole series by Rob: CLICK HERE. I highly recommend you check out Rob’s new book “RISK MAKES SENSE

The 5 B’s of Safety Conversion

clip_image001When one looks at the safety industry and safety orthodoxy in general it seems to conform to five basic approaches to the psychology of conversion. Psychology of conversion? Yes, most people in safety are as much in the evangelical conversion business as Hillsong. Mostly, the conversion desired is to get people to move from being unsafe to safety ownership. Now that is one significant conversion process. I get asked often to explain why people take risks against all the prescribed rules on site. I am then asked what can be done to change people’s behaviour. See, we are in the conversion business. So they ask the question, I then tell them the strategy for conversion and that’s when they decline because as experts in the psychology of conversion they decide to stick to what doesn’t work???

I don’t think many people in the safety industry would disagree with the object of conversion but the disagreement is about the method of conversion. No, I don’t intend to talk about door knocking and ‘fire and brimstone’ preachers but the 5 B’s of safety conversion as espoused by safety orthodoxy. Here they are: Barricades, Banning, Bureaucracy, Beltings and Brainlessness. Here’s an easy 5 finger icon to remember the 5 B’s.

Let’s briefly have a look at each one of these attempted conversion methods and see if the attempted method at the psychology of conversion works.

Barricades: Barricades are helpful and come under the methodology of ‘engineer out the idiot’. Whilst barricades are a successful method of control they really don’t convert attitudes, values and beliefs. Engineer out the idiot methodology essentially drives away from safety ownership and creates more idiots. Psychology of conversion strategy – FAIL.

Banning: Banning things is another strategy under the methodology of ‘engineer out the idiot’. I was with the regulator the other day and he stated that he wanted to ban all ladders off all sites. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, this is how one thinks when one is ignorant about the psychology and culture of risk. The truth is, every time something gets banned, it drives behavior in another direction, often in ways that create new more ‘wicked’ problems. This is because most efforts by safety orthodoxy at regulation are mono-visioned, a world immersed in its own bubble. Banning doesn’t drive safety ownership but does drive a whole new array of creative and subversive ways to beat the ban. Psychology of conversion strategy – FAIL.

Bureaucracy: There are not many humans who are fans of paperwork for its own sake. The ever expanding growth of paperwork in the safety industry now makes things simply incomprehensible. Most people ‘on the tools’ look at a 38 page index to the safety management system and say ‘no thanks’. The excesses of paperwork drive the ‘flooding’ of consciousness and ‘tick and flick’ culture and these move in a direction away from safety ownership. Now that’s a different kind of safety journey! Psychology of conversion strategy – FAIL.

Beltings: The idea of the ‘big stick’ as the solution to everything is a denial of all the research we know about positive reinforcement and the psychology of attraction. When you study the psychology of conversion you will understand why cults and various addictions are so attractive. Why is it that cults, gambling and drug industries can get conversion right and the safety industry remains in the dark? When we were kids we used to cop some fair old beltings, and I mean beltings. In the 60s we all knew what a ‘good thrashing’ was. Schools were experts at it whether with leather, cane, hand or bat, it was dished out without much consideration. Zero tolerance doesn’t work, it fills gaols, courtrooms and creates a whole new subculture of resentment, negativity, disrespect and cynicism. As a singular conversion strategy punishment doesn’t work, you don’t need to be Einstein to work out that our gaols keep filling as the punishment regime keeps increasing. Psychology of conversion strategy – FAIL.

Brainlessness: You can’t convert others to safety ownership without creating thinking people. The more safety orthodoxy ‘dumbs down’ the safety journey, the less we see creative, learning safety ownership and leadership. There can be no conversion without learning just as there can be no learning without risk. When I see employers looking for safety staff I see them often go straight to qualifications and knowledge of legislation. Now don’t get me wrong, both of these are most important but more importantly we need safety people who can think. If we can’t develop some sense of sophistication in thinking in the safety industry beyond blind dogma, fundamentalist mantras and snake oil marketing we will not see much development in safety ownership. The ‘dumb down’ strategy certainly gets converts but to the wrong outcome, certainly not safety ownership. Psychology of conversion strategy – FAIL.

When we look at the psychology of conversion and the psychology of goals it seems like the safety industry has looked at all the research evidence and then deliberately chosen to ignore it. Ah, we love the 5 B’s.

If you are wondering what the alternative is, I have written about the psychology of conversion before. the-psychology-of-conversion-20-tips-to-get-started



Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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