Nudges in Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE)

Nudges are interventions, policies, or decisions that rely on behavioural science to steer people in a particular direction, but at the same time preserve their freedom of choice. Nudging relies on subtle psychological ploys to guide human beings to make choices that are more beneficial for themselves or for society in the long-run. This method of influencing people without forcing them is known as libertarian paternalism, a term coined by Nobel Prize winning economist Richard Thaler.

Nudging tools are everywhere. Even in our homes. The alarm clock that you set every night is also a nudging tool. When it beeps in the morning, it doesn’t force you to wake up but only gives you a reminder. It is entirely your call whether you want to do a somersault in the bed next or go back to the fantasy world.

Nudges can prove to be extremely useful in the field of Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE). Following nudges can be used to enhance safety at workplace:

1. Safety Videos: Videos of accidents should be shown frequently to the field workers. Such visuals make people realize how even a small mistake can cost massive loss. It is important to note that oilfield operations involve multiple challenges to safety — remote locations, harsh weather conditions, and rigorous physical work. These exert a significant toll on people’s minds. After doing years of routine work, employees often become complacent towards safety. Accident videos remind them to be alert all the time. These videos instil sense of ownership amongst workers.

2. Safety Posters and Slogans: Initially I considered safety posters and slogans useless. They seemed more like a photo op. But, still I implemented them a lot as a Safety Officer because these were quick wins. However, few days later, one of our crew members started chanting a safety slogan whenever he saw a risk. His act reminded me that workers do take notice of those display boards. Hence, to make people more vigilant, display safety posters and slogans that raise fear of accident. These tools constantly alert people that they are working in a hazardous environment.

3. Positive thoughts inside: While the outside of bunkhouses and living accommodations need to show danger signs, the inside environment should be filled with positive thoughts and ideas. These are the places of recreation for workers and you need to provide tools that help them restore spirits and energy after rigorous work. Put motivating quotations, safety targets to be achieved, and HSE policies inside. Also, put more photos of smiling faces. Photos of a happy family or happy group can instill camaraderie among team members.

4. Ask different person to lead: Our emergency response plan (ERP) assigns a definite task to each team member in case of an emergency. All members are expected to perform their respective roles. However, in the mock drills this decorum need not be maintained. Operations in oilfield go 24x7. You cannot monitor all tasks all the time. Hence, to ensure optimum safety, it is essential to create leaders out of everyone. Each member should be a Safety Officer for others. To do so, ask a different person to lead the drills each time. Start a ‘Lead the Drill’ campaign. This way, every member will get to know the nuances of operational safety and will be well equipped with all the roles and responsibilities. Workers will be able to broaden their horizon of thinking.

5. Safety Stories: Most of the time in the onsite safety meetings, we have a diverse group of team members with experience ranging from less than a year to decades. Some of the senior members have vast amount of experience and have witnessed some of the riskiest of operations. They would have seen far more number of high pressure jobs than the young generation. So, it is vital to make them speak and share their insights in the safety meeting. To nudge them, a ‘Safety Story a Week’ campaign can be started, wherein each new member will share a story highlighting risk assessment or risk mitigation.

Encourage people to use CAR format to share stories — Challenge, Action, and Result.

6. Sandwich approach: When you start your safety meetings by complaints or highlighting mistakes, people tend to lose interest immediately. To sustain their enthusiasm use sandwich approach of conducting meetings — start by recognizing good performances or enunciating certain positives. Then follow it up with the real meat — points you want to concentrate on. And again end with a soft bread of positive thoughts. This technique can help you to grasp attention of crew members.

7. STOP Card: Dupont’s STOP card system has been widely used in many parts of the world. It has been proven to be an effective safety tool. Again, the STOP system should not be a mandatory force that punishes people and stops the work. Rather, it should be used as a nudging tool to remind people of mistakes. STOP cards should be used to reward people than to punish them. Even in absence of punishment, mere presence of STOP card system can nudge people to be more adept.

8. Discuss and display near miss: Best safety workplaces generally have an excellent near miss reporting system. Near miss always encourages crew members to ponder upon root causes. It is very important to brainstorm about the root cause of near miss in the meetings rather than merely stating it out. Such brainstorming helps in operational optimization too. Number of near miss reported should also be displayed on a board outside the bunk house, reminding people of their responsibility to report near misses.

9. Earmark key locations: The ‘Danger’ sign put up by electricity boards across the world has been one of the most successful nudging tools ever deployed. At many locations, you can go and operate an electric panel. There are no locks to prevent. But the mere sign showing skull and bones is enough to scare people away. Similarly, the key locations where the potential of a miss happening is high, need to be earmarked with such danger signs. Signs or quotations should be such that these can fend off people from skipping necessary safety protocols. Often people don’t like to be bogged down by heavy rules. So, when you write ‘Wear a safety helmet’ or ‘Use of ear muffs is mandatory’, people tend to avoid those completely. Instead, lines such as ‘If you miss a helmet here, your family might miss a member forever’ or ‘Skip the ear muffs near the engine and find yourself deaf sooner’ can have a more significant impact.

10. Surprise checks: Surprise inspections reveal the actual reality as members don’t have time to wrap up their flaws. Such inspections are necessary. However, these checks should be used not to crib or criticize but as a nudge so that crew members remain vigilant all the time. Possibility of a surprise check often nudges people to maintain appropriate safety standards.

If you have any more suggestions on ‘Safety Nudges’, please write down in the comments below!

This article was originally published in ONGC’s internal web portal — ONGCReports