Beyond Behavior?


Written by:
Eduardo Blanco-Munoz

Director HSE & Industrial Risks

Lisi Aerospace, France




I was thrilled when Fleming’s producers invited me to chair a morning dedicated to the theme “Beyond Behavior” during their 14th HSE Excellence Conference in Amsterdam. Such a provocative topic! It is true that today our very understanding of the HSE function, our tools and our methods, are being disrupted by technology in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of 15 years ago: cobots, AGV, VR, big data, AI… Such are the current trends impacting our world and they will be discussed at length during the conference.

Without any doubt, technology is bringing new means and huge value to the HSE field—as it brought and keeps on bringing new concerns and possibly posing new dangers. Is behavioral safety just outdated? Well it all depends on what you understand by “behaviors”.

What could be beyond behavior when it comes to HSE? What could triumph over the choices that are made by the players involved in financing, designing, implementing, running and maintaining an operation?

If we consider all of these steps as a series of behaviors, we understand that the classical differentiation between risk mitigation means and barriers (technology, systems, and people) although very practical doesn’t make much sense. The answer to what lies beyond behaviors can’t be engineering controls or management systems as we realize that these elements are chosen or discarded, promoted or ignored by humans. I’d rather say that the engineering and managerial choices that are made upstream will determine to a great extent what will be the choices and behaviors that will be adopted down the line, by making different options more or less feasible, practical or rewarding.

Behavioral safety in this light is not only alive and well, but actually thriving thanks to the amazing progress made in neurosciences, psychology, behavioral economy and other related social sciences. We have now a much better insight in the role of attention, habits, routines, attitudes, values and beliefs—and how to influence those both at individual and at group level with the most effective managerial, leadership and cultural approaches.

We live in a world where technology is enabling us to challenge the limits of what’s doable in fields such as biotech or nanomaterials, but also in terms of individuals’ and social monitoring. A VUCA world where behaviors derived from overconfidence, complacency and group-thinking at all levels—from policy-making to execution—can lead to catastrophic consequences. I think in such a world the role of behaviors and the science of how to positively influence them is as prominent as it ever was.