Peter Anikijenko, ISCRR Knowledge Translation Officer
Have you ever quickly checked a text message or answered a call while driving? What about the risks that are taken at work?
Driving safely, including not using a phone whilst driving, is important to stay safe on the roads and most drivers know this. Our behaviour behind the wheel is vital for our safety and for those road-users around us. A survey of Victorian drivers revealed that whilst the majority of drivers do not use a phone whilst driving, 37% illegally use their smartphone while driving. This is despite the widespread growing evidence that such behaviour is associated with a higher risk of crashing. The correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace is also a significant problem. In 2008, a study of Australian farmer behaviour, showed that non-use of PPE was frequently reported, with between 10-40% of farmers routinely using no PPE at all when using pesticides, despite being aware of the risks.
We all know that phone use whilst driving, or not wearing appropriate PPE at work is risky to ourselves and others, so why do some ignore the danger and behave this way? The common phrase that “prevention is better than cure” does not always seem to stick and this includes where we work. When discussing workplace safety or work-related injuries, prevention can seem obvious after an incident. By applying behavioural science, risky behaviours and attitudes may be identified and changed before they result in dangerous outcomes.
A behaviour is what someone is doing (the task at hand e.g. driving or using a power tool), not necessarily what they are thinking (“this will just take a moment” or “I can’t miss this call”). However, it’s the thinking that precedes the behaviour that has an equally important role to play. Researchers in the field of behavioural science examine and unravel the motives behind human behaviour by incorporating elements of sociology, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and closely related fields like behavioural economics.
Factors such as time pressure, value, risk or motivation form a critical part of many workplace behaviours, especially those that are hazardous or risky. Using behavioural science principles, it is possible to discover how humans make choices that lead to risky behaviours. The combination of elements of psychological, economic, cultural or political factors that can contribute to or drive behaviours is known as behavioural insights. Behavioural insights can help scientists understand the decision-making process behind non-compliance. These insights are subsequently used to inform the design of behaviour change interventions and ultimately inform policy.
ISCRR research informs decision-making where behavioural science has been applied to workplace scenarios. For example, in Australia less than 3% of workplaces are agricultural workplaces, such as farms. However, the agricultural industry is over-represented in workplace fatalities with 21% of all work-related deaths. Almost half of these fatalities were vehicle-related, often involving quad-bikes or tractors. Successful interventions for farm fatality prevention need to consider farmer behaviour as informed by evidence reviews and global scans. ISCRR’s research explored attitudinal and behavioural limitations toward accidents and identified opportunities to improve decision-making and behaviours through tailored communication or incentives.
A typical misconception is the idea that changing behaviours can be achieved through “common sense” or education alone. The examples of driving using a mobile phone, or neglecting PPE are all dangerous and known, even illegal, yet are still frighteningly common. They are common because the attitudes that drive these behaviours are complex, varied and often inadequately addressed.
Solid research underpins effective behaviour change models. Behavioural insights have been used as an evidence-based approach to integrating learnings from the behavioural sciences into public policy enabling more effective education, better regulation and meaningful outcomes.
Public policy applications of behavioural insights include:
Undesirable workplace behaviours also require research to form an effective intervention. ISCRR has an active research translation program and works closely with WorkSafe Victoria on researching and informing a number of general workplace issues. The impact of research and its subsequent interventional programs is measured with indicators like dissemination, informing decision making and societal change with reports, case studies, Thought Leadership seminars and other research translation activities.
Whether it is an evaluation of an interventional campaign, identifying new techniques to improve work-related behaviours or improving return to work outcomes, behavioural science and high quality research have a growing and measurable impact on the workplace. The increasing use of behavioural science supported by sound research, are important for enhancing workplace environments to ensure worker safety and well-being.