>> Prevent-IT! - Safety training system

>> Behavioural Safety - Squaring the Circle

>> Behavioural Safety - one Triangle or two?

>> Behavioural Safety - a Kink in the Line

>> Closing the gaps in safety culture

>> Prevent-IT!

>> Cracking service and contact centres' fight for quality staff

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Prevent-IT! - Safety training system Linkedin Pulse, October 2015

Click to read Gordon Flannery on Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety - Hazard Awareness and future Prevent-IT! online training and assessment products.

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Behavioural Safety - Squaring the Circle Warehouse, April 2014

Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety publisher Max Klein says that involving everyone is what it takes to find and close the gaps in safety culture

Knowing how to work safely does not guarantee safe behaviour. Yes, supervision compensates, but why doesn't training deliver real commitment to safe working in the first place?

Over time, people lose awareness of what they've learnt and accept risk without seeing it. Routine and work's social dimension may explain why no one stopped the driver in February's article from chatting instead of looking where he was taking his pallet truck.

Yet employees' experience and how they interact within the work group could be working for you to increase safety and reduce damage. Educationalists know what adults look for from learning. Having already learnt something from experience, they have experience to give as well as a gap to fill. They look for information that's of immediate use; they like a learning environment where they can express themselves. Being people before they are employees, their confidence grows when they feel valued and competent. You can channel this energy or stand aside and see training as purely skills-focused.

Behavioural Safety programmes aim to reduce unsafe behaviour and promote safe behaviour. They involve three elements. There are statistics to create expectations and focus; behavioural observation to create change; motivation to raise awareness of the human cost of carelessness.

To improve chances of success and provide a yardstick, Behavioural Safety practitioners may start with a survey. They measure clients' strengths and weaknesses using safety culture surveys, the Health & Safety Laboratory's Safety Climate Tool, for instance. They assess organisational characteristics such as commitment to good practice, trust, peer group attitudes and health and safety behaviours. Behaviour-based incident analysis then helps prioritise action.

Observation by trained observers is the second Behavioural Safety element. But one of the Hawthorne study findings highlighted in March was that change in the conditions of work e.g. the start of observations, not the nature of the change, improves performance. If so, then lack of follow-up can cause the tail-off noted by the Health & Safety Laboratory. External motivation does not seem able to halt it - some in the health and safety profession talk about "hot coal merchants" with short-term awareness-raising initiatives.

There is a second Hawthorne finding which has a different way of explaining why performance improvements are not sustained - work groups set their own expectations. In other words, to achieve lasting change, workers need to identify with the change. If safety were at the top of everyone's agenda, self-motivation would be enough to maintain performance improvements. But it is not, and recognising risk, whatever form it takes, and making the right decision on how to minimise it require a conscious effort.

Techniques such as peer-to-peer behavioural observation and peer-to-peer presentations on safety topics bring the source of information on good practice closer to the recipient. But as long as those providing and receiving safety information are different people, it feeds into the traditional perception that safety is "something done to me".

What if everyone were a committed behavioural observer?

Inside or outside a Behavioural Safety programme, Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety drives commitment to behavioural improvement via work groups. The more people have their say, the more perspectives and experience are shared, the fewer hazards get overlooked, and everyone gets to do behavioural observation. Workers train on real-life hazards to prepare for dealing with real-life hazards. Hazard-spotting and guided discussion get individuals working as a group. That way, they can help each other understand why a course of action is productive or risky - and agree responsibilities. Everyone can contribute at their own level. They have an opportunity to convince each other and an obligation to each other to commit to good practice.

Having work group members engage with each other on safety issues and having the ability to run frequent training sessions taking as little as a few minutes of downtime means that Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety is ideal for keeping good practice top of the mind and making real change possible in the culture of a workplace.

The HSE's new HSG65 places emphasis on features that characterise all properly managed health and safety activity, not just training. Sharing information, collaboration, consultation and involvement feature strongly.  Among training resources and approaches, these describe Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety and the work group culture that its use helps to shape.

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Behavioural Safety - one Triangle or two? Warehouse, March 2014

Who owns the safety culture? In the second of three articles, Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety online publisher Max Klein changes perspective

Providing a safe working environment and systems with appropriate training and supervision is a legal duty. In conjunction with clear management commitment, this contributes most to accident prevention. But it doesn't eliminate accidents. People make their own choices.

Behavioural Safety programmes have two aims - eliminate the unsafe acts that build Heinrich's accident triangle; improve safety culture as a result of the process. They start by analysing accidents and incidents to identify the most frequent and potentially dangerous types. Then they blitz workers with behavioural observation, feedback and focused training.

This is in line with the original interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which sees behaviour in motivational terms - human needs determine what people do. Maslow's triangle explains what gets done first. If a basic need - safety, for instance - remains unmet, everything higher stays on hold.

For behavioural observation, the implication is that, where an expert tells a worker that something is wrong, human nature helpfully adds that nothing could be more important. Perfect...except for two findings from other research going on at the time HW Heinrich was analysing accident reports.

At Chicago's Hawthorne Works, motivational and organisational initiatives were being tested for their effect on productivity. Many, including observation of workers' behaviour, had some positive effect - but not for long. Productivity dropped-off, rising again when the next change was made. Commenting on behavioural observation programmes in 2014, the HSE's Health & Safety Laboratory, too, sees that "organisations often find the improvements seen quickly diminish".

A second Hawthorne finding was that work groups set their own expectations. They take information and determine if and how it gets used. So initiatives that come from within are those that are more likely to be sustained. Safety, good or bad, forms part of group culture. And if work groups haven't taken ownership of safety, then individuals are less likely to want to get involved. As we saw in the last article, people don't necessarily deal with what's going on in front of them. For a way forward, let's revisit Maslow.

A recently completed 10 year Gallup survey checked Maslow's ideas and uncovered the reason why human nature fails to underline the importance of an unresolved safety issue. People have plenty going on, and satisfying higher-order needs - social support and respect, for instance - contributes most to feeling good. Safety issues may not even register. To quote Ed Diener who led the study "a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs aren't completely fulfilled".

Maslow explains why there is no automatic link between group culture and safety. The link has to be created. And the Hawthorne studies tell us that initiatives have to be driven from within a group, not from outside, if change is to last.

A new routemap for behavioural observation takes shape; one where group culture becomes the driver, not what's being driven; one where everyone is an observer, not just a select few. Next month, how to do it.

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Behavioural Safety - a Kink in the Line Warehouse, February 2014

Reducing accidents is common sense. But can you rely on common sense, asks Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety online publisher Max Klein in the first of a three-part series

Standing on the platform overlooking a warehouse floor, I could see ride-on pallet trucks on the move between double rows of full pallets and driving past the ends of the rows nearest me. The pace was busy, yet calm.

One driver stood out - and not for his speed. Each time he'd pass one particular corner, he'd slow down to chat with the operative working there. As he drove past, the driver would keep looking back, chatting. Once, as he approached the next blind corner, there was another truck heading towards him unseen, not five yards away. Somehow, both drivers stopped before colliding. Had they received training? And did the near-miss cut out the chat on the way back? The answers are, respectively, "yes" and "no". Work has a social dimension.

The 1930s research leading to HW Heinrich's Accident Triangle and its updates revealed that, for every accident, there are huge numbers of unsafe acts. Alongside that, there is another pattern in Health and Safety - it is human errors that cause the vast majority of incidents.

In other words, unsafe behaviour is all around, and we are part of the problem. If we are also to be part of the solution then, to eliminate accidents, we have to eliminate unsafe behaviour. So Behavioural Safety was born. It brings some good results. It faces some scepticism.

Behavioural Safety programmes are variations on a theme. There's a pep talk on safety principles or a motivational DVD. Sometimes incentives. Implementation team training. Observation of people at work. Identification of unsafe behaviour. Re-training to improve it. Or, put another way, motivating the workforce and confronting them with any problems found. Behavioural Safety applies common sense in the form of good practice to the job in hand - one straight line from A to B.

Back to the three warehouse workers. Three went on working. Two continued building Heinrich's triangle at a rate of about 15 instances of unsafe behaviour in an hour, if they kept it up. Did they think through what they were doing? Did the near-miss leave an impression? Why did the driver go on chatting? Why didn't the others give him hell? Now that would have seemed like common sense.

There's a kink in the straight line from motivation to the application of common sense. It is that common sense can't just be assumed. Sense is not common unless shared with others. Sense is based on individual experience, reinforced with individual experience, filtered by experience - which starts off as individual.

Especially if we spend our time doing rather than thinking, it is what we do that informs how we think, not vice versa. We do something repeatedly, without negative effect, then we forget about any risks.

Behavioural Safety programmes bring results through a co-ordinated effort to tackle common types of unsafe behaviour and those causing the greatest harm. Next month's article looks at whether change for the better is self-sustaining.

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Closing the gaps in safety culture Warehouse, January 2014

"How can we get more people involved in doing H&S observations?" and "How can we look at familiar tasks with a fresh pair of eyes?" were among concepts discussed during a presentation to November's UKWA Operations and Safety Committee meeting.

Plansafe Solutions' Matthew McVeigh spoke about behavioural safety's identification of safety culture as the key driver determining whether acts of unsafe behaviour will decrease or increase in number.

Behavioural safety, like any optimisation programme, aims to achieve continuous improvement. And, like them, results emerge most easily given time, stability and a 100% focus. But in this industry, change is permanent. A combination of strategic organisational development, operational requirements for flexibility and intense pressure on people's time risks leaving gaps in a company's safety culture and opening-up new ones. Such conditions may require a new approach.

Behavioural safety uses observation as the prime means of achieving improvement. The choice of who is to carry out health and safety observation has long been linked to one's familiarity with the process to be observed. Is it a job for the few or for the many? If it's for the few, whether they are supervisors or specially trained observers then, as safety practice becomes more about "them and us", it becomes less about common sense.

Riding on the back of that question is the issue of whether familiarity can be a hindrance as well as a help. To be useful, familiarity means having to put aside any unspoken, routine assumption that will get in the way of a ground-up evaluation - not so easy when one is looking at something that one sees and does every day. But it is something that happens naturally when exposed to situations that are both relevant and unfamiliar at the same time.

Taking these factors together, Matthew concluded that the process of achieving behavioural improvement in logistics must:

- involve more workers in observation, not fewer

- develop their thinking and interpersonal skills so that they can make the best use of what they know to benefit both their team as a whole and their own individual career path

- be capable of being switched on instantly, on demand, so as to make productive use of whatever time is available

Matthew proceeded to demonstrate Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety, a new hazard awareness online training and instant assessment resource developed by Plansafe Solutions and Inside Track Media.

Created for training room use, it is highly visual. Being language neutral, it also accommodates diversity in the workforce. Its approach to group training develops a conviction-based safety culture whose drivers aren't external but come from within the group. Hazardous situations are worked through in order to understand their risk implications and encourage an appropriate and timely individual and group response to workplace safety issues.

Good adult lifelong learning principles require an inclusive approach and facilitation, as opposed to teaching. Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety is consistent with this requirement.

Dealing with unsafe behaviour, Prevent-IT! Warehouse Safety also provides a strong foundation for traditional health and safety training, such as manual handling.

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Prevent-IT! CCF, April 2007 a new health and safety package for contact centres produced by Inside Track Media. Neither computer-based training or health and safety are particularly sexy subjects, so it was difficult to see how this product was going to enthuse. However, Inside Track's attempt to generate pro-active attitudes from what they admit is quite dry subject matter is successful and really quite impressive.

The web-based software....provides a virtual reality call centre, as well as text-based content. This is a refreshing idea, and provides verbal and visual cues to crystallise safety concepts in the minds of employees - as well as making it that little bit more fun to use. The delivery of the content is not tightly structured, leaving staff to work through their own agenda. This may be a disadvantage if you'd like more control - but thorough tests....

....covers key areas within call centres, which are not usually catered for in a single health and safety programme. These areas, such as acoustic safety, voice health and hygiene signify that an employer is not only fulfilling their legal obligations, but is keen to make a statement to employees about their worth.

Whilst the crux of this system is the content itself, the administration side of the system is also up to scratch - with a paperless results system to ease workload. It's also easy to provide printouts of staff data, allowing easy compliance with employees' right of data access.

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Cracking service and contact centres' fight for quality staff The Marketing Leaders, January 2007

Customer and staff retention in contact centres are linked. The drive for efficiency is essential but it can also be self-defeating. The OECD's global framework of corporate governance principles aims to improve performance by combining the most efficient allocation of scarce resources with an ethical regard for their value and rights. It might just be the recipe for contact centres, too.

As marketing professionals, we are probably involved in the growth of direct sales and distribution. It's a trend that distances customers from their suppliers, and it is clear that success can be vanishingly short unless we close the gap with effective customer service.

As consumers, subscribers and council tax payers, few of us are without some personal experience of service through contact centres.


Is it a happy experience? Not enough to stick in the mind, according to Callmedia's survey in 2006. Just one in 25 of us claims to have had a good experience with any contact centre at all. And it does not appear that the experience of contact centres' potential employees is any different. In fact, guidance for the BTEC Introduction to Contact Centres course assumes that staff have negative experiences of contact centres as customers, as well as positive ones.

Last year, the writers of a cross-sector report for The Institute of Customer Service found high customer satisfaction reflected in high employee satisfaction. The reverse was also true - high employee satisfaction motivates them to give good service and produces high customer satisfaction. If this is contact centres' aim, what's the level of achievement?


Worrying. Aston Business School's 2004 study found 84% of UK contact centres using management principles "more akin to manufacturing assembly lines than service operations designed to create positive interactions with customers." Loosely translated, it means that contact centres aren't treating properly one group of vital stakeholders, with the effect that another group of vital stakeholders isn't being treated properly either. It's no surprise that ORC International's Perspectives survey found that contact centre staff are the occupational group that least like the work they do.

Also, a significantly smaller proportion than in the working population as a whole believe they are making good use of their skills and abilities. And this from people who are recruited on the basis of their determination, empathy and intelligence to explore new opportunities, understand issues, listen to points of view and sustain and exploit customer loyalty. Applying such qualities in the context of budgeted wrap-up times and a variety of performance targets puts some pressure on every individual's moral and physical strength. Contact centre staff want to give great service. But they see barriers.

Attrition Rates

In 2006, a Sanderson & Neale attitudinal survey found 72% of employees of Welsh Contact Centre Forum members having no commitment to their employer and nearly half of these expecting to leave. Other studies covering the UK as a whole showed 23 - 30% of contact centre staff remaining with their employer for one year or a shorter time, compared with a UK average of 18%. Contact centre employers stand to benefit less from the experience of their staff.

Staff attrition has a negative impact on brand reputation, day to day. Where a centre is working near capacity, the loss of even one operator seriously affects waiting times. It isn't a theoretical issue - unauthorised staff absence is at 5.8%, according to ContactBabel, and is understood as being much higher than that in some large centres.

Of course, not everyone leaves for negative reasons. But with its adverse impact on customer service and with recruitment costs which can be £5000 per person, staff attrition represents a significant business risk to be kept in check. Recruitment provides no easy answer. For more than half of contact centres, recruiting staff of the right calibre is a problem.

Is the right response operational or strategic? If the prime cause is strategic, then the operational efficiency of current staff can't make up the deficit, other than in the very short term. Dealing with the cause means having to achieve conditions which make it possible to maximise efficiency - a larger, stable and motivated resource pool.

The Northwest Contact Centres Project applied Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to structure an approach to maximising the impact of health, safety, welfare and other conditions of employment. Given that the most basic of motivations demand the most immediate response, it is easy to see the positive impact of getting employees' first year right - staff churn reduced by a minimum of one in five leavers.

Getting the Basics Right

At the most basic level, faced with a constant need to perform, staff have to feel physically comfortable and free of unreasonable stress.

It is a legal requirement, defined in health and safety law and in the good practice guidelines for work in contact centres. These require staff to be given an understanding of the issues and knowledge of what they ought to be doing to help themselves. In conjunction with a feedback loop for reporting problems, this understanding enables staff to share responsibility for compliance in the working environment with management. That, on its own, gives them a stake in the success of their organisation.

The next step up in terms of being in control of one's surroundings is knowing one's way around and "knowing the ropes" in what can be a very large workplace.

Formal communications fail because of their formality. Official guidelines, po-faced instructions and handbooks don't engage this generation of twenty somethings, any more than their parents. Finding the right tone of voice is essential if training materials' message is going to register, and "buddying" provides reassurance in a personal way that handbooks don't achieve. A multi-sector study by Crystal Interactive found that feeling part of a team was more important than pay and flexible working, in terms of its effect on morale.

Battle of the Giants

Nowhere is the competitive pressure for suitable, local staff greater than between regionally concentrated contact centres employing many hundreds of operators, often using converted warehousing on the edge of town. This puts the centres relatively close to each other, as far as prospective employees are concerned, but also far from local services.

Various initiatives are underway. Some extend conventional thinking to the task of increasing the resource pool.

Offshore outsourcing does this, and it lowers costs, too. But customers' response to the language gap has brought about some well-publicised policy reversals.

Bussing in people from outlying market towns has been tried for similar reasons. But tolerance of 40 minute commuter journeys varies across the country, and the anticipated influx of fresh staff has not always been there.

Flexibility in the deployment of existing staff actually increases the resource pool. Call blending increases call-time availability by enabling suitable inbound operators to make outbound calls when inbound volumes are lower.

Belonging to Each Other

Other initiatives address the motivations of Maslow's middle range - stability and belongingness. Their aim is to root employer and employee in each others' respective operational and family systems, to their mutual advantage.

They include teleworking, the progressive flipside of bussing. It is proving successful for the AA and others in terms of overhead reduction and makes it possible to call on additional staff with little notice. It is also a family-friendly policy - important in an industry, where many employees have young children.

Another example comes from one of the several telecoms centres in Warrington. During 2006, it ran monthly "open days". These gave local college students space in the central canteen area to provide staff with a variety of wellness-related services. While staff obtained greater value from their scheduled breaks, the initiative provided positive exposure for the contact centre's working environment among the student population.

There is a need for initiatives which challenge the idea that staff are there for the short-term only. It is done by demonstrating the employer's commitment to the staff's wellbeing over the longer term. A biodiversity scheme, for instance, can improve the contact centre's surroundings, and it will offer opportunities for involvement and competition, much as charitable schemes do.

Self Sustaining Development

At the top of Maslow's hierarchy are requirements which relate to individuals' ability to achieve their ambitions and recognition of their capabilities. The industry's established system of vocational and professional qualifications facilitates both, and multi-site operations can offer greater development potential. Building the team's skills is an essential part of motivation. Without it, sustaining a service proposition as the foundation of competitive advantage isn't possible.

Argos' multi-brand centre at Widnes interprets the call blending approach dynamically, designing variety into the staff's workflow and giving them the authority to see many issues through to resolution. By maintaining staff skills across process areas, Argos is developing management potential.

The application of corporate governance principles is developing, as in every other business sector. They may appear to be a diversion from the industry's traditional focus on efficiency. By reducing attrition and increasing call-time availability, they are ingredients in a recipe for success. But how many contact centres apply them in a structured fashion from the bottom to the top of a hierarchy of needs?

Max Klein
Director, Inside Track Media

© 2017 Inside Track Media Ltd. All rights reserved.



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