How nudge theory can help with health and safety

A behavioural nudge is a psychological technique used by organisations to encourage good decisions in various scenarios. Essentially, behavioural nudges can guide employees towards a favourable behaviour as opposed to a dangerous one.  

Originally conceived by American economist, Richard Thaler, nudge theory has also been used by governments to change the status quo with regard to national issues like the take up of organ donation and workplace pension enrolment.

How does nudge theory help with health and safety in business?

In a workplace scenario behavioural nudges gently guide people towards a safer option given a limited choice – typically two courses of action. It can be used to help with health and safety in business, particularly in industries such as construction where the risks are high.

So what are some examples of nudge theory, and how can it be introduced into the workplace?

Examples of behavioural nudges

Cues and prompts

Using cues and prompts, employees can make better decisions without consciously being aware of doing so. For example,

  • Colour coding and markings on floors to guide individuals away from risky areas
  • Painted footprints on gangways to encourage construction workers to keep to the left/right hand side 

A particularly good example is when engineering and design consultancy, Ramboll, placed small mirrors at entrances to the Carlsberg New Central Office construction site in Copenhagen, along with the message, “Who is responsible for safety today?”

Placing healthy foods in a prominent position

Nudging isn’t just about safety, however – it can also be used to encourage worker health. Positioning nutritious foods within easy reach at the front of a counter in the work canteen, for example, encourages good decisions that will ultimately improve health.

Using nudges to help with health and safety

Implementing behavioural nudge theory doesn’t need to be complicated:

  • Knowing when and where employees have to make simple health and safety decisions, such as on the gangway of a construction site as mentioned above, helps you determine the type of nudge you need.
  • Providing a straightforward and clear choice of behaviour – either ‘A’ or ‘B’ – improves the chances of success as people don’t consciously feel they’re being forced down one path, figuratively speaking.

Nudge theory can offer valuable help with health and safety in many industries. Using subconscious emotional responses to guide and influence behaviour in the workplace enables you to improve health and safety in your business, adopting a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ approach.

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