When an employee experiences a safety incident, there is a natural tendency, rather right or wrong; from the employer to accuse the injured employee of having a poor safety attitude.  But, what is the definition of attitude?  An attitude is an internal way of individual thinking or an individual belief that influences a person’s behavior.  It is important to note that attitudes cannot be observed.  We can only observe the results of attitude while observing individual behaviors. But, what is the definition of behavior?  Behaviors are influenced by attitudes and likewise, attitudes are influenced by repeated behaviors. Continuous performance of a desired behavior will result in a long term, permanent change in attitude.  Changing a behavior can be accomplished, not by trying to change an attitude, but by changing the behavior itself.  There are several important reasons for focusing on behavior:

Safety Managenment

– Behaviors can be observed therefore they can be measured, reinforced or corrected;

– Behavioral changes will lead to changes in attitude;

– By observing behaviors, we can intervene before an incident; and

– Focusing on behavior provides an opportunity to identify the barriers to desired behaviors

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All roads have a speed limit that is posted and rarely observed.  Periodically, we see an unfortunate driver who is caught and ticketed.  Our immediate reaction upon seeing a police car is to slow down and then resume our “normal” speed shortly thereafter.  Why?  The police, in this case, represent a negative consequence of speeding.  It is not possible to provide enough police cars on the highway so that all drivers maintain the correct speed. The benefits, or positive consequences of speeding, are much more immediate and certain.  By exceeding the limit, a driver can arrive home early, relax and do something more desirable.

On the other hand, if the same speed zone were equipped with “speed bumps,” a driver would adhere to the limit or risk immediate damage to his vehicle.  The positive consequence of getting home early would be outweighed by the potential cost of repairs (negative consequence) to the vehicle.

These examples demonstrate the power of antecedents and consequences of behaviors.  Antecedents come before a behavior and serve to prompt or trigger the behavior.  Consequences follow behaviors and influence whether the behavior will be repeated.

The three elements combined, ACTIVATORS, BEHAVIOR and CONSEQUENCES, are known as the ABC model.


An activator is a person, place, thing or event that comes before and serves to encourage a behavior.  Every behavior has an activator.  In the work environment, we frequently rely on activators such as work procedures, audible warnings, and instructions from co-workers to prompt desired safe behaviors.

Some common characteristics of activators include:

– Activators always come before the behavior.

– Activators communicate information.

– Activators are effective in triggering desired behavior when paired with consequences.

– Consequences for one person can be an activator for another person.

– Without consequences, activators have short-lived effects.


The second component of the ABC Model is behavior.  Behavior occurs immediately after an activator.  It is a natural response to the activator and is quite predictable under most circumstances.

The word behavior has a negative connotation to many people. Because our behaviors reflect our attitudes and beliefs, our behavior is very personal to us.  We have a tendency to be defensive when someone wants to discuss our behavior.  Behavior is simply defined as an observable activity.  It carries no connotations of being good or bad.  Although we most often hear of a person’s behavior when it is used to attach blame for an incident, an effective EHS process must address all behaviors, not just at-risk behaviors.


Consequences are the third component of the ABC model. Consequences are anything that follows a behavior. They can be positive or negative. Consequences can also be tangible (gift or reward) or intangible (praise or satisfaction).

To help achieve our goal of zero incidents, we should strive to provide frequent, positive consequences for safe behaviors. Consequences are much stronger than activators in managing behaviors.  A parent may continually warn a young child not to touch a hot stove.  However, once the child touches the stove and is burned, the painful consequence of the burn will ensure that the behavior is not repeated.


Consequences are anything that directly follows a behavior:

  • Injury
  • Discipline
  • Praise
  • Thanks
  • Money
  • Satisfaction

Here is an example of the ABC Model in motion:

Whether consequences are positive or negative is just one factor in determining the strength of consequences.  Equally important are the timing and the consistency that a consequence will be delivered.  Timing, or how soon a consequence is delivered following a behavior, has a significant influence on the strength of the consequence.  Positive consequences provided immediately or shortly after a behavior will be the strongest.  Athletes are not rewarded weeks or months following a sporting event, but are instead rewarded immediately following the event.

If a person is reasonably certain that a consequence will be delivered, then that consequence will have a strong affect on the behavior.  For example, if you knew that you would receive a speeding ticket every time you exceeded the speed limit, that certainty would result in driving the speed limit.  Below are

TIMING     Soon / Later

A consequence which follows soon after a behavior is stronger than one which occurs later.

CONSISTENCY     Certain / Uncertain

Consequences that are delivered consistently after a behavior are stronger than those that are uncertain

or unpredictable.

SIGNIFICANCE     Positive  / Negative

Positive consequences are stronger than negative ones.

The consequences, which are SOON, CERTAIN, and POSITVE are the strongest.  By contrast, the weakest consequences are those which are LATER, UNCERTAIN, and NEGATIVE.

  • Soon / Certain / Positive   SC+
  • Soon / Certain / Negative   SC-
  • Later / Certain / Positive   LC+
  • Soon / Uncertain / Positive   SU+
  • Later / Uncertain / Positive   LU+
  • Soon / Uncertain / Negative   SU-
  • Later / Certain / Negative   LC-
  • Later / Uncertain / Negative   LU-


The actions of people contribute to nearly all work-related injuries.  Traditional safety programs focus on improving working conditions or changing employee attitudes to prevent accidents. However, understanding the relationship between behaviors and incident prevention is essential to a continuous safety management system improvement process. It is also, what defies the difference between traditional and world class safety management systems.  Long term, continuous safety improvement is dependent upon motivating the desired behaviors the employer wishes to establish.

If you are looking to get ISO 45001 Certification, you may need the services of a specialist Health and Safety Consultant who can guide you through the requirements of the ISO 45001 safety management system standard and help you develop and Implement the safety systems in your organisation.