Irrational Decisions Impact OHSMS Implementation

| July 19, 2011

Last May, I gave a presentation on auditing occupational health and safety management systems at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference (click here to access my blog post about that presentation).   I was followed by a speaker who talked about behavioral considerations in implementing an OH&S management system.  The focus of her presentation was on helping people make rational decisions about safety.

The problem is that individuals do NOT make rational decisions – particularly when it comes to safety and health.

  • They refuse to wash their hands and come to work sick – even though these are the best strategies to prevent a potential epidemic.
  • They talk and text on their cell phones while driving – even though it is as dangerous as drinking and driving.
  • They wear their safety glasses on the top of their head rather than as protection for their eyes – as seen over and over again on HGTV shows.  (I keep meaning to write a letter to HGTV pointing out the poor example they are setting for all of the DIYers in the audience.)

Why do people act irrationally?

My favorite book on this topic is Predictably Irrational (click on the link below to order from Amazon).  In this book, Dan Ariely explores the reasons why individuals appear to act irrationally – this includes overvaluing our possessions, letting options distract us from our real objectives, and following established social norms in the workplace.  As he puts it – “we consistently overpay, underestimate and procrastinate.”


Ariely contends that rather than ignoring the factors that make our decisions appear irrational, businesses and policy-makers need to design their policies to affirmatively address these behavioral influences.  This would include how an organization structures its OH&S management system processes and procedures.   To build a successful management system, we need to accept that there are many reasons why individuals act the way they do and design the right type of “interventions” to overcome our inherent “human” shortcomings.

What to know more?

I recommend reading Dan Ariely’s book – or checking out his blog. 

I particularly liked his blog post – The Meaning of Labor: What Legos Can Teach Us about the Joy of Work.  I think it has a important lesson for anyone who is seeking to solicit the assistance of others in developing a management system within their organization.

To purchase this book from Amazon, click here. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsSocial Psychology & Interactions Books)

 © ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)


Category: OHSMS Implementation, Resources & Tools

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