Plant & Works Engineering
The positive power of ‘nudging’
Published:  09 October, 2015

In factories and warehouses around the UK, millions of decisions are being made every day affecting the health and safety of employees. These decisions are often based on complex and conflicting choices, for example between increasing productivity and reducing risk, and some of the most important choices are those that are made by the operators of forklift trucks. Gavin Whickham, operations director at Briggs Equipment offers some thoughts.

Forklift trucks play a vital role in our increasingly sophisticated supply chains and they have the potential to be at the centre of supply chain disruption. Over the years, surveys have found that the biggest single cause of downtime and disruption through workplace accidents and damage is incidents involving forklifts. In fact, last year 133 people lost their lives in forklift truck related accidents.

The Rising Cost

No matter what manufacturers and distributors do to make sure the safety systems on the machines support the environment in which they work, the cost of accidents and damage continues to rise. And not just in terms of lives.

This year alone (as of the end of August) 30 serious or major accidents resulted in £1.6 million of fines for the companies, directors and workers involved. Couple that with the endemic confusion about what constitutes ‘fair wear and tear’, most companies are not aware that the majority of the damage sustained by a forklift lies outside the contractual obligations of their hire agreements. In the worst cases, damage costs can amount to as much as 40% of the cost of the contract.

With ‘Safetember’, the Forklift Truck Association’s (FTLA) campaign for National Forklift Safety Month now upon us, it is time to look at the conscious and unconscious choices that are behind these statistics and how we can ‘nudge’ them in a positive direction to ensure the wellbeing and safety of our workforce, whilst reducing overall operational costs.

The Root Causes

It is a matter of record that the main cause of accidents and damage is unsafe working practice. In nine out of 10 of the most recent cases the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ruled this to the primary cause, often coupled with inadequate driver training or interaction with third parties.

Invariably, accidents and damage results from the choices drivers make between safety and productivity. Professional drivers will always find ways to go faster, get more of the job done more quickly and they will often get implicit approval from their peers and bosses for this. Nevertheless, even for the most skilled and experienced drivers there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed:

Cutting corners and general bad practice

• Failing to complete daily shift checks

• Driving too fast, especially over uneven surfaces and even adjusting speed controllers, Driving over debris and not removing it

• Reversing without looking properly or while driving too quickly, or perhaps with wing mirrors or rear window dirty, or no warning siren or beacon flashing

• Not securing loads properly

• Not securing seat belt

• Turning with an elevated load

• Driving with the load obstructing the view

• Not fully inserting forks into the pallet

• Hurrying to get out when parking – operators often jump out before the machine comes to a complete stop, don’t switch off the engine, or don’t apply the handbrake, and forget to chock the wheels, especially on a gradient

• Getting caught between the mast and bulkhead with the engine still running – accidently activating the hydraulic controls and crushing the operator

• Multi-tasking – whether it is pedestrians, other drivers or the FLT operator forklifts and mobile phones don’t mix. One haulage driver recently got hit by a reversing truck when he was talking on his mobile.

• Social media – whether it is getting caught on camera by passers-by or staging antics to post on YouTube, there is an increasingly worrying trend of serious accidents being shared on social media. In one recent case a 17 year old apprentice who was the target of warehouse forklift pranks died after being accidentally crushed into a wall

Influencing the architecture of choice

In all of the above behaviours, the operator will make a choice - whether it was a planned, conscious one or a reflexive, automatic choice - about what they were about to do. Similarly, organisations make such choices, often more by omission than design.

Many organisations spend a significant amount of time and effort creating a health and safety culture with risk assessment, method statements, inductions, training, and safe systems of work. Yet despite robust processes, accidents and damage can and do happen. So what else can be done to influence the choices of operators and even organisations? Behavioural science might have an answer.

‘Choice architecture’ describes the ways in which the environment influences how we decide; this can be through culture or even the technological environment in which we work. Companies might use choice architecture interventions to push people towards a certain positive outcome, called ‘nudges’.

Firstly we need to understand what influences and motivates the choices that people make. Our basic motivations at work are for pleasure/enjoyment (or avoiding discomfort/pain), fulfilment, belonging or connectedness, recognition and responsibility, a sense of achievement and advancement in our career. Which of these influences us most will impact on our values, which underlie our belief systems, attitudes and behaviours. When it comes to health and safety, companies have an obligation to improve the choice environment and need to design their choice architecture to help employees satisfy their intrinsic motivations.

For example, companies can use technology to influence choice. By providing mobile phones pre-loaded with health and safety induction videos or safety apps and questionnaires, companies can provide a fail-safe way to ensure that new operators partake. Alternatively by pre-installing online fleet telemetry onto all forklifts and related materials handling equipment, companies can nudge operator behaviour by sharing information about best driving practice, using statistics such as fuel economy and damage per user or per truck.

With access to real-time data, managers can monitor and analyse fleet performance. Focusing on the positive (what they are doing right) rather than the negative, can nudge drivers to want to compete on parameters that help improve safety and reduce damage, such as completion of pre-shift checks, low rates of impact or damage and adherence to speed limits.

Internal campaigns such as operator of the year competitions, and other best practice initiatives – for example Briggs’ own BE Safe Campaign and Damage Initiatives – can further influence the choice environment of operators to improve their health, safety and wellbeing and benefit the organisation’s financial wellbeing at the same time.

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