Behavior-based Safety: Taming the Lucky Monkey

Apr 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Health and Safety

The clichéd phrase “incidents and accidents are unavoidable” is not acceptable to today’s safety management professional. Everything happens for a reason, including incidents and accidents. For years, safety professionals have been striving to detect, prevent, and eliminate incidents.

We tend to assume that the majority of safety incidents are caused by untrained or inexperienced workers. Unfortunately, a huge number of safety incidents have originated with experienced staff members. This situation is ironic because experienced staff members are supposed to be less incident prone, given their increased competence arising from continued exposure to the same task. However, the Achilles heel lies exactly in this experience, which proves to be a stumbling block to the goal of zero incidents.

Relationship of Safety Attention and Worker Competence

Interestingly, as the graph shows, attention to safety decreases as employee experience increases. The point of intersection of the two curves is the point of invulnerability. This is the point where an experienced employee begins exhibiting the common phenomenon of feeling like a “lucky monkey.” I coined this term to describe employees who have gained enough competence in their daily tasks that they begin to take chances. I interviewed several incident victims, and these were some of the common thoughts that went through their minds:

  1. Incidents and accidents happen only to inexperienced staff.
  2. I‘ve done this so many times that even if I cut some corners, I‘ll be fine!
  3. I can afford to take just one shortcut; I will not be the unlucky one.

Taming the Lucky Monkey

By far the most effective way to tame a lucky monkey is not by retraining but by increasing responsibility. Making lucky monkeys responsible not just for their own safety but for the safety of others is the only way to remind them that being lucky by yourself is insufficient—you are responsible for those in your environment as well. This constant thought at the back of their minds will, hopefully, take the monkey out of them.

Other Articles by Willie Chan in the EHS Journal

Safety Promotion: Doing the Right Thing Right!

About the Author

Willie Chan is an environmental, health and safety professional working in the Singapore Rail Industry, where he is currently leading the Operations Safety Team. He is a member of the System Safety Society (Singapore Chapter) who has a research interest in behavior-based safety.

Photograph: Peacock by Jean Carneiro, Brasilia, Distrito Federal, Brazil.

Return to the EHS Journal Home Page

Tags: , , ,

One Comment to “Behavior-based Safety: Taming the Lucky Monkey”

  1. […]  Behavior-based Safety: Taming the Lucky Monkey […]

Leave a Comment