Podcast: Johnny Dyreborg | Discussing a Huge Safety Study

Danish safety researcher Johnny Dyreborg unpacks learnings from analysing 60,000 global workplace safety studies: why awareness campaigns fail, how communication and leadership prevent accidents, using rewards right, and worker involvement for culture change.
December 10, 2023
James Kell
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What workplace safety interventions actually prevent accidents over the long run? In this episode, James Kell speaks with Danish researcher Johnny Dyreborg, co-author of a pivotal systematic analysis of 100 safety studies worldwide, taken from an initial sample of 60,000 studies. They unpack provocative findings on the failure of awareness campaigns and complexity of incentives, while stressing the fundamental role leadership communication and worker involvement play in transforming culture.


James Kell: Welcome to the Scratchie Podcast. This is James Kell, co-founder of Scratchie. Today we have as a guest Dr Johnny Dyborg. He's come over from Denmark to attend the World Safety Congress here in Sydney this week. And Johnny is the author of perhaps the most important paper to come out of the safety space in the world in the last few years. It's a collaboration with a bunch of other academics. So strap yourself in for quite a technical discussion over the next hour; one which is so interesting. Johnny Dyborg.

James: All right, Johnny. It's really great to have you here. You're in Sydney just this week for the World Congress, are you? 

Johnny Dyreborg: Yes. Yeah. 

James: And so tell me. I'd love to know a bit about Johnny. What got you here? You know, from your childhood in Denmark. All the steps that got you to where you are, in safety.

Johnny: I discovered safety first because I'm out of family with many, many workers. Take my father. He was a painter. So you learn about some of the conditions that you are seeing about his work, but just that the people were getting sick or have an accident. Yes, I think it was maybe the prime driver. But then I came to the university and and I was very lucky to work with some people where we started to look at exposure to asbestos, for example, on some factories. In Denmark at that time it will not be that today. And a new world opened to me that people can get sick or hurt in their job. It was still something new and I could combine it with my knowledge about my own family background. So. 

James: And when was that? What what decade sort of thing were we talking about. 

Johnny: We are in the eighties, in fact. Okay. 

So you grow up the son of a painter in Denmark, you notice the conditions that your father's working in. And that's kind of interesting to you. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

And then you go to the university and you start studying and you find out that there's quite a lot of safety and illness and that sort of thing that comes from work. Is that right? 

Johnny: Yeah. And then you start to learn things and you combine it back to your own background. So maybe it was not the prime driver in a way, because my family was like manual workers and so on. So I also jumped up a level to go to university. But then later on you could combine back to what you have seen in your own life and your family life and also working in very sometimes challenging positions. 

Yes. Okay. And so you're at the World Congress for safety. So there's everyone who's a thought leader or a leader in safety is here in Sydney this week, which is great. And I came across this paper that you've written “Safety Interventions for the Prevention of Accidents at work, a systematic review”. And so that is and it's not just a 20 page paper, I think it's 187 pages. It's massive. 

Johnny: Yes. 

So there's a lot of questions that I've got from here. Can you sort of tell me at a high level what that paper is about? And, you know, let's just unpack some of the findings of that paper. 

Johnny: Maybe allow me first to say, why do you jump into such a big work like this? 


Johnny: And sometimes you're lucky that you didn't know on beforehand, as it will be so hard to do it because maybe you will jump other ways and so on. But it was hard to do it, in fact. But what really drives me here is that you often listen to a lot of good recommendations and things, and then sometimes you're saying this isn't all working, and you also experience yourself when you make your own studies that there's a lot of things going on and you question how good these interventions are, these activities at workplaces are in fact, and will they bring any better safety in the end. So that led me and my colleagues to really go into this field. And we collected about 60,000 different studies from all over the world. 


Johnny: 60,000 Yeah. And then we cooked them down slowly and some of them are irrelevant and we cooked them down to exactly 100, not because the figure should be 100. But we ended there and every time I have to explain why is 100? Because it was a 100, so to say best studies who could be accepted. Also because we have it accepted by the Campbell Collaboration which is a high level body who only accept like the best reviews at all. And then we went through all this literature. It is a hard work and you cannot do it alone. You imagine there's a lot of good coworkers doing such a big study like this, and you asked me about some main findings from here. And one of the main findings we could see here is that the more individual directed approaches are not working very well or have zero effect in the long run. 

So what does that mean? What's the individual approaches? What are you talking about there?

Johnny: Yeah, what is that? It is for example, if you were to approach at workplaces that that worker should be aware of this and that and remember to do this and so on. And maybe just awareness campaigns. Because if you do awareness campaigns in a workplace today, there are many awareness campaigns and maybe it works today or maybe the next week, but it is also a lot of effort for a company to keep up running awareness all the time. And you cannot do it on all issues. So I could see they are not working well with these attitudinal approaches, so to say. 

Okay, so what I'm understanding is if you have fall prevention month or something like that, some kind of awareness campaign, then you're saying they're very limited in their efficacy. 

Johnny: Yeah. Also because it means you remember that a workplace is not only you have to have that, that's maybe also where I come from. Work is often a very practical matter and you are doing a lot of your work without really using lot of cognitive efforts in a way because it is on your backbone so, to say you are working and it's also when you do that you are most efficient. 

So it's the who was that, the Israeli researcher who did fast and slow thinking. 

Johnny: Oh yeah, that's a little the same idea here. 

Okay. Yeah. So heuristics, so the automated kind of habitual sort of stuff rather than slow thinking. 

Johnny: Yeah, because I use in fact a Danish research he was researching in the atomic power plant and so on in Denmark and he distinguished between the skill based, rule based and the knowledge based; 

Skill based, skill based rule based and knowledge, knowledge based. Got it. 

Johnny: And if you go from skill based to towards rule based and knowledge based knowledge based, you use a lot of thinking and it makes your whole body slow is when I was driving here in Australia the week before we started this side you can or left and you don't know the places. So I have to drive very slowly to be safe. Very slowly. And then I have a lot of attention because I try and left side and not used to that and all that. So here I'm really at my knowledge base level. 


Johnny: After some time, maybe a week, I think. A little better. Maybe I'm at a rule base, so I don't have to have so much consciousness about my driving. 


Johnny: I might be able to also look at the nice surroundings in South Australia. 


Johnny: After maybe one, two or three, maybe a year. Here I would try automatically, 


Johnny: And I could really be a much safer driver and so on. So so it's just to explain that the more awareness you put into your job all the time, the more cognitive effort you should do in order to do your work. 


Johnny: And much of our work we are doing, even if it's academic work we are doing relative automatically. And Rasmussen, the famous skills rules and knowledge concept developer, he also discovered when people work at the skill based levels, they work much safer, much quicker and so on. So every time you put things into the work where you have to think more, you move away from the skill base, 

Got it 

Johnny: And get the work slower, and that's or refer back to this slow and fast thinking. 


Johnny: So it's very important in a way to think about that. We have to create good and safe routines. 


Johnny: At the work. And that's also where we see young workers have a higher propensity for having an accident at work because they are the new drivers at the workplace. 


Johnny: And if you ask them to drive with the same speeds as the old guys at this workplace, they will they will make damage not because they are bad guys, but because they need long time to adjust to new conditions before they can be a driver who drive with a skill based 

Got it you. Wow. Okay, that's. There's a lot to unpack. 

Johnny: Was it a heavy heavy start? 

It's really good. No, no, no, no, no. It's it's really interesting. So I look at safety through the lens of the individual worker and because because I believe they have largely been forgotten in this push over the last 20 or 30 years on safety. And what I'm hearing from you is if the individual is expected to get out from the sort of fast thinking, skill based work and hop into a slow thinking work, ironically, that makes them less safe. 

Johnny: Yes. Yes, exactly. And that's I think, some of the mechanisms we have to think about when we look at safety at work. Some workplaces I speak with also say, 'but we cannot remove all this thinking.' No, I say there will always be a thinking. But maybe our job is not to remove everything. But we should think the workplace as land mines. There's a lot of land mines that you should not jump on and we should have so few land mines at the workplace as possible so you can escape them most of the time. 

Okay. So it favors an engineering approach, you might say, to removing or so a systematic removal of hazards in the workplace. 

Johnny: Yes. Yes. 

Okay. And let's say that that is done. But you still have humans and they're still doing work and they're still fallible. They get distracted. Tired, all the rest of it. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

How can you ensure that workers remain engaged? Because I'm sure engagement must have something to do with safety. Right? 

Johnny: I think and here we are going back, maybe even I would say to another colleague also from Israel and Dov Zohar, he worked with safety climate and he say in my maybe say that his he died earlier this year in fact I was very sorry about that because he he was a great thinker 

What was his name, 

Johnny: Dov Zohar. He was professor in Israel in the Haifa University. 

Got it. 

Johnny: He was a wonderful thinker also, in safety. And he also say that I am not putting so much attention on the workers. I put my attention on the leaders because they are fewer and they have used fewer resources to impact somebody. And it is the leaders who have to impact the workers in a sense to show the workers that management has a high priority and it was the key of safety climate is to show that all companies have priorities and the workers are clever guys. They can see what this company is prioritising. So if they prioritise the time and and to be finished with deadlines is more important than safety then they do that because they know that they will have positive feedbacks on that. In some other workplaces he also showed in his research as I have shown in my own you can shift this priority not to zero production but you have a higher priority on the safety. Then slowly the workers will go the same way because they know that a positive feedback when they take safety precaution at the workplace

Right. So looking at that if if he said and it sounds like you agree with that principle right through this research and that backs you up and you've done all the, you've done enough analyzes of papers and everything else. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

So let's say that prioritizing the leadership is crucial to safety. 

Johnny: Yes. 

Right. So then. What tools do the leaders have? So then you're saying, okay, leaders, once we've got engineering controls, so we've made the site as safe as we can. Now we're looking at the leadership of the sites they need. It's about the leaders, because if the leaders are not on board with safety, nothing's going to happen. So what tools do the leaders have to encourage the workers to be safe? 

Johnny: He has at least one tool and it is a very efficient tool. He has his communication skills. They don't need to be like communication skill like you are going on a TV channel and and talking a lot. It's very simple. You know, every time you meet with your workers you ask them always, about the safety aspect of any operations in particular when you look at construction sites, for example, because then that is very dynamic. And therefore we had one study where we looked at this and I say in industry, in industry, for example, the workers saw the leaders every second day. In transport, the worker saw his leader once in a day so to say and then you can maybe if I ask you, well, how often do you think a worker on a construction site see the leaders. Every second hour. Why? Because the more dynamic the workplaces are, the more often you need to coordinate. 


Johnny: And in all of these coordinating point, each one of them, safety should be an issue because then something have to be changed in this situation. And we have tested that with different studies. And it works. We asked we went out to the workplace and then we ask the leaders, you go with us in this experiment. Yes. But I don't know much about safety, my people know more. No, but you don't need to know anything about safety to ask about safety for you. Safety is a value. You are just asking your workers, how are we usually doing this in a safe way here? What are you? So you can ask your workers how they do? That's enough. Because then they know that you prioritize safety. You don't have to tell them because they are good people that don't have to tell them how they should do it because they know exactly how they should do it. In most cases, like say in 90% of the cases, they know exactly what they should do. So just you ask them, how do we do this safely? You have already put a value into the conversation with them. 

Got it. Okay. What I've noticed and maybe this is a different tack that we're taking, but it's sort of related to what you just said. What I've noticed is that in because I also started at well, my father was a builder, his father was a builder and so on. And I started as an apprentice and did my carpentry. And and you're right, construction sites are very different to say, manufacturing or other, you know, or hospitals or anything because they're constantly shifting. Always shifting. And so it makes sense that the supervisor needs to be there all the time, because this is a constantly moving feast. I joined the industry at the end of high school sort of in the early nineties and that was when the first proper act's safety acts and laws and all that sort of thing were promulgated. And so I noticed that change insight from being kind of happy, go lucky to, to being more and more and more and more safe. And there's more regulations. And so it appears the only tool that has been used to date is one of compliance regulation. And then if you're if you're not meeting those regulations, then you get fined, you get reported. So it's an inherently punitive approach to safety. 

Johnny: Yeah

And then. Notwithstanding the engineering controls, we're just talking about the human side of things. So understood. Engineering controls are absolutely crucial. Right. Let's just talk about the humans. So the only tools that I've noticed in the last 30 years were punitive. 

Johnny: Mm hmm. 

But if you look across not just people, but across mammals, like there's always carrots and sticks. 

Johnny: Mm hmm. 

So there's certainly there's a room for the punitive approach. There's a room for the stick, obviously. But this whole carrot approach, the whole encouragement and rewarding, has been completely left out of the paradigm. I'd love to hear your view on that. 

Johnny: Mm hmm. 

Because ten years ago, when we we played around with this idea of rewarding a worker for working individual, specific, safe behaviors, say: “well done, champion”. For me, that was a leadership tool. I'd love to hear your view on that whole concept. 

Johnny: Yeah, I think it's very good to do some …maybe highlight, sometime that if you have achieved a very good or safe work, maybe you'll find it as a project, but you maybe pay attention also to the also had a high level of of safety at that site and and you can you can do something; maybe give the people a ticket to a football match or something like that. I think that that's a nice thing to put in as a carrot for good work. But I think it cannot be a stand alone issue. 


Johnny: What I said before is it is the daily coordinating between workers at construction sites and the leaders, that you emphasize the balance between speed and safety, and the safety climate is something which comes up and down during a construction project. So very good construction, here is a second example for Denmark. They say, ‘we put in our concrete people in the beginning’, because they can not only have a high safety camp, but they have a basic culture of high safety. So if so, 

What do you mean?

Johnny: Putting the concrete people in the beginning with those who dig the whole center ground up, build up the basement of the house, for example, if you are building a house. They take their own people in in the beginning of the project, then they can hire new people later on, for example, those who are doing scaffolding, walls and all the things, technical fittings and electricity and things like that. If you have a basic group of people that make the basic cultural level and procedures, 


Johnny: But if you start to hire in unknown people from the beginning it can be very hard for you to sustain a high level of safety, so to say. 


Johnny: So this said a remunerations in the end of a project is not enough. You have to have daily routines and the leaders cannot ‘sleep in the office’, they have to be out on a construction site. Just think about Denmark and Sweden as very similar countries. And we are in many ways, yet in Sweden the construction leaders are more often on site compared to Denmark. Sweden have a lot lower accident rate than Denmark have. 

Is that right? 

Johnny: Yes, it's much lower. And and we have we have investigated that because, of course, we are curious in Denmark, and 


Johnny: ...we built a big bridge between Sweden and Denmark 20 years ago and we investigated. 

That's the perfect project, isn't it? The bridge between the two countries. Metaphorically. Literally. 

Johnny: Yeah. And I would also say to to you and those who listen to this, that this study, it may be one of the few studies where you can compare two nationalities on the same project. 


Johnny: It was not, um, a good outcome for the Danes because the Danes have 4 to 5 times more accidents that at on the same type of construction. 


Johnny: And that led us into a closer investigation of why this difference. And you can also imagine that it was not funny to come back to the Danish construction clients, companies and unions. And so on to say you have much more excellence in this. In the beginning I think there was a little noise around that and then we said, ‘okay, but this is a good starting point to find out how can we move in the direction of the Swedish very low level of accidents which we have to learn from’, and then come back to our story here. Construction managers are much closer to the work done at the construction sites and that's also because in Sweden they have a very well educated workforce. But also the first years at the vocational schools, for example, the engineers and the workers they follow, they are on the same school. So they have a better communication from the start. So that's back to our discussion before. That this communication is very fundamental and of course, also what you put in to this communication. We measured this communication. And sometimes of course, they spoke about the football match the evening before, but the most important was that there was an element of safety in it also to put value to that part of all the work, so to say. 

Right. So that's that is fascinating. So you've got one bridge, two countries both with high levels of safety. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

On a world scale. Yes. And you have but you have one country. Clearly you're 4 to 5 times safer in terms of accidents, recorded accidents or. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

And and that was all like that was that was all equalized. Was it levelized. 

Johnny: Yeah. Yes, it was done properly. Statistical terms also say yeah, 

Right. So you've got Sweden with 4 to 5 times fewer accidents. And the the factor that it came down to was a higher level of communication between leadership and workers. 

Johnny: Yes. Yes. That was one of the one of at least elements here. 

But would you say, it's interesting that it wasn't engineering controls, because, of course, it sounds to me and tell me if I'm wrong, that the leadership and the communication begets engineering controls, not the other way around. 

Johnny: Yeah, but you can see, it's is very important that of course the engineering controls are in place. But I would also argue that that when you have, uh, you can have engineering controls at the workplace, but they're not used. For example, I sometimes see that they have very good, uh, tools, for example, to put in windows, which are very heavy, but they're saying it takes too long time maybe to, to use it, but it's very safe for the window, but also for your back problem, so to say. And, and therefore you can have engineering controls at the site. But another question is are they used and we sometimes see for example in Denmark that I still think have a high level of safety that managers when they got a new tool for example, a new engineering tool, they are not there to introduce it. They're sitting in the office. 


Johnny: So they are not paying much attention to this important tool. And then you see it there for forty nights after in the corner and collected a lot of dust there 


Johnny: So maybe I exaggerate a bit here but is to pay to to make a clear picture that you can have engineering controls but they also have to be used in all the necessary situations. And that's, I think a more leader-based approach will help. Because maybe sometime the technology to do it is slower, but you still need to do it because it might be you saving the cost for a broken window or broken back which is even more costly, so to say. 


Johnny: So in this case, I think you are not only that you are close to your workers, but you maybe also lift the whole safety problems. And we can see we measured in Swedish vocational schools and Danish vocational schools you have more or less the same safety climate levels. But the Swedish workplaces, the construction sites, have much better safety climate than the Danish ones. So we measured that on a later occasions; to follow up on these big differences where on the bridge there 

And that was through surveys or that was through looking at lost time injuries or. 

Johnny: Yes, we we did surveys on each. And in Denmark and Sweden and these are the workplace and compare the scales for safety climate and we see clear differences. So there was safety climate difference, which goes back to the priority of safety and the cooperation between leaders and workers at the construction sites. 

Got it. This is so interesting. we started this conversation, I thought that engineering controls, without doubt, are crucial. But it is clear that they don't happen by magic. So they both create both ensuring that they exist. Is is a set of decision, but then ensuring that they get used is another set of decisions. The common factor to that is people. And essentially it's leaders and workers. 

Johnny: Yeah. 

And so it's interesting to me if we just change tack to Vision Zero. 

Johnny: Hmm. 

And Vision Zero has, I believe, seven 

Johnny: …seven golden rules, 

...golden rules. And one of those golden rules, the seventh, from my understanding, concerns people. 

Johnny: Mm hmm. 

And yet what we're talking about now is that everything begins and ends in terms of safety with people. Do you find that kind of curious interesting that of the seven golden rules on safety, the seventh talks about people. 

Johnny: Yeah, it does. Now, I should also be very honest that I'm not like a, like, Vision Zero investigator. No, no, no. And neither am I. And I'm not deliberately poking holes. This is just being provocative for the sake of the discussion. Yeah. 

I go on the level below to see what components in the safety management systems are working. Yes. And and when you say people, I think, of course, leaders are also people, management of people, but people are not equal to managers and they have more power than workers. 

Johnny: True. And that's and I should really clear up by saying the seventh is about workers. 

Yes. Yes, true.

Johnny: And and I think, of course, workers are important. But I see here that it's very important now I also come from a Scandinavian tradition. And I, of course, convey that thinking also that workers are not only important in knowing the rules, rights and so on, they are also important in the in a more democratic thinking. So they will be involved in decisions of the workplace. So it creates higher degree of ownership. And and for me, this is also crucial because if you are not always only have a one way talk to your workers, then you will not win them for a more sustainable long term solution at the workplaces. So so involvement of workers for me is very crucial, not only for democracy as such, but also for making it so the companies also have more vision sense for their work so they have more knowledge to also ...we saw also at the conference, some Australian companies show how they also make development close to the workers because they have a lot of knowledge how things should be done and so on, which are sometimes overlooked, so to say. Yes. So people in that sense I think is is quite crucial in the whole safety systems. 

Yes. And do you think that enough focus is put on the workers in terms of safety, because I realize that this is someone who's not inside this this tent, so to speak. But it appears that the old fashioned way of thinking was to blame the workers on safety accidents: accidents are workers’ fault, they weren't paying attention, it’s their fault. And then the industry quickly or maybe not so quickly, but the industry's now gone to the fact that actually safety happens at the leadership level. They create the engineering controls and it's more… do you think the safety kind of thinking has over reacted and instead of saying ‘well actually the leaders have a lot to do with safety, the workers also have a lot to do with safety. They can be encouraged, they can be punished. Likewise, the leaders.’ Do you think in moving away from blaming the workers the industry has over adjusted and now ignores the workers? 

Johnny: No, I think, uh. I think of course not that you should have a no blame culture, but you should have a just culture. A culture in the sense that some time a company has to react also towards leaders who are really going over the borders so to say. But I would say that is more unusual. And we should not end up in a situation where leaders are blaming workers and workers are blaming management. And the only thing to avoid, I believe, is that you have a much better cooperation between workers and leaders because they should know each other and also respect their different working conditions. Possibilities are also there if you are more close to your leaders, you better understand, you can discuss with him or her but you can also understand the conditions that he also has to work with, higher up in the hierarchy. So instead of fighting him, you can say, ‘can we help him with some better arguments?’ So it’s also to make a better communication that the more far leaders and workers from each other, the more blame culture will grow up there. 


Johnny: Yeah. And so. And that's not useful for anyone so to say 

In fact that that's a big part of why we've done what we've done. And I'm not sure how much you know about Scratchie. What we noticed was that a lot of a lot of safety was about the leaders. And so they say to the leaders, the managers, ‘safety begins with you.’ And the managers say, ‘okay, what should I do? What does good look like?’ And they say, well, put safety into your discussions. Like go around and be present and talk about safety. And the leaders say, ‘okay, I can also put some posters on the wall to say, we value safety. Safety first.’ And so they do all that. Now, from the workers’ perspective and you with your with your father being a painter are very connected to this. So the workers start to say, ‘okay, so we see these posters on the wall saying, be safe. We see that the leaders keep talking to us about safety. But I there's nothing that I get from that. All I'm getting at is barked at. They call it consultation, but I'm just getting spoken to. And then I see posters on the wall.’ What we noticed with and then I'm getting punished when I'm not being safe. So this is safety for me. A lot of being spoken to, posters on the wall and punishment. The first time that we tried Scratchie… and I think some of these studies and – tell me if I'm wrong – talk about the disconnect between workers and management being a problem with safety. I, as a worker, would be quite cynical in that environment. Then a manager comes around to me and says, ‘James, I saw you just keep your area tidy’ or let's say I come to you, you’re the supervisor, and I say, ‘Hey, Johnny, I know I'm a carpenter, but I've seen that the scaffolding, there's a hole in the scaffold. And I don't think that's very good for fall protection.’ And you go to me, ‘James, well done. Thank you for for finding that; here, scan this QR code’, and I scan the QR code. 5 seconds later, I win ten, 20 or $50. Right. 50 bucks I get. And I say ‘Thanks, Johnny.’ Right. And you say ‘No worries. Anything else? If you see anything else, let me know. Because this is all about safety.’ It's the first time that management has actively the walk meets the talk. You haven't just been talking. You've actually, in a concrete sense, given me an award. Then I go to the site shed at lunchtime and my other workers go, ‘What was that going on with you and Johnny?’ And I say, ‘I just won 50 bucks.’ They go, ‘how did you win 50 bucks?’ [laughing] ‘Well, I saw, you know, that gap in the scaffold that we've seen for the last few days. I just told him about it and he was so happy he gave me this award.’ Right. And they go, ‘okay, I'm going to be doing whatever it takes to do that.’ Then I go home to my wife and I say to my wife, ‘You wouldn't believe I just won a safety award today.’ She goes, ‘Well done.’ So it creates this positivity, but also it focuses the attention instead of the the safety being the mandate of the safety manager and everyone else just doing their job all of a sudden and they're not being told that they need to look out for safety because they're sick of hearing that. They always hear that. But they're going, ‘in order to win, play this game and win, I need to be safe.’ So it's had this remarkable impact on site and I'd love to hear, given that sort of little anecdote little story, I'd love to hear your take on that through the lens of of of thought. 

Johnny: Yeah. So, so this is to create a very clear carrot for safety, so to say. And I think it can work in the short run, but it will require that you sustain the system. And, and I think it's not always the case that it runs for shorter. And when it stops, then the workers can get cynical. Okay, now we're not paying attention to this more because we're not paid. So there's also a fallacy, a problem here in this type of approach. And and 

Just before, can I push back a little bit on that? If you're training a mammal, whether it's a child or a dolphin or a dog or a seal or whatever, then it needs to be a tight feedback loop. So they do the right behavior. You give them a reward, they do the right behavior, you give them a reward, they do the right behavior while it creates that habitual behavior. And then you can remove the reward because they're habituated to that behavior. In the same sense, is it a case of so-called ‘priming the pump’ or creating that habitual, lifting the safety culture by saying you start off with rewards, but then it becomes how things are done around here and you can start to remove the rewards. Is there an argument to be made there? 

Johnny: Yeah. So there's an argument in the sense that if you can, because when you put it up in a way to set it up, this system, it's a conditional. So it is if I do this and I have a reward in a way, and then there has been some research on when we slowly remove this reward, then it is not reverting back. So to say 

It doesn't revert back. 

Johnny: Yeah. And I think we we did, we classified a number of studies using solely a behavioral approach and we could not see a long term effect of them. And we cannot always see in the studies why maybe. But one idea we had is that that that many organizations only run things for a shorter time and then they stop. They're not they're not a scientific study; They adjust and they're not fading out. They stop it one day because now we use money for something else. Something like that. 

Yes. So so you'll so there's been no long term studies on this. 

Johnny: I saw a Swedish studies on transport workers where it seems to have a higher effect. And we were thinking about why. And here all the workers in each transport unit, they every year got a lump sum and then the 

Like a bonus. 

Johnny: Yeah. Okay. So you can say like-

Attached to anything or just just happy Christmas?

Johnny: No, no. Just to have a high level of safety and no accidents. 

Okay. Yeah. If they meet certain metrics, then they get a bonus 

Johnny: Every time they have a problem or something, they withdraw like 100 Swedish krona, whatever what it was, but there was an effect. But we are always, as researchers, concerned about setting up systems where you can you can play with the systems in the sense that you are maybe not reporting something. 

That is the problem with rewarding lag indicators. So you can either reward the reporting or you reward the behavior. 

Johnny: Yeah. And-


Johnny: And my answer to these things is that the that there are some indication of the behavioral approach alone is not working well in the long run. But I saw somewhere they have created strong interactions between the workers and it was like they lasted a longer time. So maybe we should think about if you do things like you suggest there, then we should think about also not only the pay mechanism for the of work about how to create and like a common idea among the workers that we want high levels of safety in this unit and you may not always need to pay money for that as I told before you can also give positive feedback to them. And they will also most people will better have positive than negative feedback. And that works for you and me. Yes. If we do our jobs well, we like to hear about it and we don't have it. But if somebody pay you $100 because you did a well, you're also sometimes feel that a little we are not always feeling well about being paid for doing our job well. So we'd like to hear about it. 

It's funny you should say that because we had initially at the start of Scratchie, we heard this argument. But interestingly, in the thousands of workers that we've awarded, nobody has reported feeling uncomfortable with winning money. 


So it's funny because it becomes part of a game and that's the game is really important. And, you know, there's a five second countdown, it's a deliberate countdown, and then there's ten, 20 or $50 won on the spot. So they don't know how much they're going to win. And so it's not the supervisor who decides that. To your point, the supervisor is not saying ‘that was quite safe. So I'll give you this much. That was even safer. So I'll give you this much’ 

Johnny: An objective process. 

It's correct. The supervisor is saying, 'according to my discretion, so I have seen some safe behavior there. I'm going to award you. I don't know how much. It's not it's not my call how much, but it's my decision to award you', and the worker goes, 'thank you'. You know, and so then at that point, you start the conversation, the positive conversation, the worker's shutters are lifted. 

Johnny: Yeah, I understand well, and I think there's no I have also seen that, for example, farmers, for example, also have paid less money if they improve the safety from the insurance companies and things like that. And it seems not working very well you have just more underreporting but. 

Exactly. That's the thing. When you-

Johnny: I agree this is the lag indicators. But what I would say, in fact, my point here maybe was more to say also that that I would maybe aim at a more collective feeling in a way when you do the thing. And another maybe more important thing for me is and I can see from our research is that if you try the safety solutions should not, as far as possible, not be something beside the work, but be integrated to the work process. 


Johnny: So this should we could not do this exercise, as you suggested, without at the same time developing the work processes so they are safety, so to say. So we need so we cannot attain or or reach higher safety in the work processes alone by reward. But it can be maybe an extra thing but I think you have to develop the work process so they have a high degree of safety built in. And and for me, the other things can be maybe to catch up some reactive aspect of safety. But we say there are three elements that are very important for safety at work and any workplace. So first early in, so you should early in the planning, you should use the hierarchy of controls at this study you refer to in fact support the hierarchy of control. You should consider that and third, there should be a broad involvement of workers also in the decisions. These three elements are the most important factors for creating safety overall. Then you can have many different methods going there, but you should just remember that all of these three elements is important for reaching high level of safety, 

Right. So I so like to hear that because again, it's the third of those three, the broad involvement of workers. That strikes a chord in me because I think it's very easy to and again, I'll get back to your father being the painter. So that connection with the real world is so important. Because it's very easy to get lost in the theory and forget that actually using construction is an example, the things always changing. And yes, you might supposed to have an engineering control, but it's not in who's going to find it. And if you have every worker knowing that they're looking, they're a part of safety and being rewarded for it, that must be better than safety being the safety manager's job or the leader's job. And I'm just going to do my work because it's like, you know, you're saying you want at the start of a project the workers to be particularly… because they're setting up the culture the safety culture on site. But again, you have these subcontractors that parachute into a project. 

Johnny: Yes. 

And they do not sign up to the values they were chosen on the lowest price. So it's like how can they be expected to sign up to the safety values of the company? So and they're coming in for two weeks to do a job, then they're going to the next job. So what is the clearest way you can talk to those people to say and I get back to it's carrots and sticks: If you make these safety mishaps, you we are going to hit you with a stick. If you do these safety things well, we are going to give you a carrot 

Johnny: I understand. And I think that comes to my mind when you mentioned is that if you have and we see that in construction process and in fact also to an increasing degree on other types of work in industry and so on, that the so to say, as you have good picture parachuting people into the work process. and and if you pay them like that for every hour, they will also develop a very instrumental approach to the work they should do that and therefore are also very instrumental of approach to safety on the side. So if you want to involve them more to be part of the safety, they they should have paid time when they make the contracts. So they also have time to come to meeting and contribute to the safety. This is a part of the work they are doing is to contribute to safety. So therefore when the client has something to be built, produce or something like that, it's very important that if you should have this involvement and high level of safety, you also have to pay people for having this opportunity to contribute to the safety on site, they will not do it from their leisure time; ‘I stay two more hours for a meeting’ and though they have to and that's we also see it in our construction projects. If they are not paid for the hours that goes to the meeting, then they are not going to the meeting. They then they go to another place and do the other work that waiting for them. So we have to think about this, and this for me a part of the planning of the project is that you ensure that the resources in place so you can do your safety precautions in a in a in a good manner 

Right. So the planning up front is crucial. Paying for time spent in the planning, allocating budget for that is is crucial and then ensuring that there's a connection between- So having the leadership on board, which of course begets all of that stuff and then ensuring that there's this connection between workers and leaders in terms of safety. 

Johnny: And I think now we, You started by speaking about, uh, maybe the more the command and control approach to safety. What we have speaking about here is the workplaces self-regulation of their work and I think it has been for the last 50 years maybe the most important development aspect in safety is how more and more companies increase their self-regulation of their work. And I see when we go and we spoke about it at the conference we mentioned before that the third so to face an accident prevention, if you look at that also is now coming in with a high high speed and that is the expectations of for example the supply chain, the expectations for the public and the expectations for banks and other companies are moving their safety. So we should also, I think in this discussion and now we are discussing the approaches and methods and so on. But for me, the drivers are also very important. And maybe some companies out there today who are not thinking so much about their safety will in the very near future, they will feel an expectation from outside the company too. And that was a nice theatre made at the conference here that I and in fact participated in myself, was an energy company who had great trouble to to combine for example environmental problems and human rights problems and so on. That was a fantastic play done by Susan Fleming, as I was saying, was quite interesting to participate in. But it also told the story that many workplace I believe also in Australia, now will face more demands in the in the sense of environmental conditions and other conditions outside the company that they have to pay attention to. And I think that's, of course, not methods and approaches like that, but that's maybe important drivers that will come in the near future to most workplaces. 

So is that a pull of safety expectations from outside, from the public, from the clients, from the end users? 

Johnny: Yes. And that's not only concerning health and safety that that is concerning whether you will have financial resources to expand your own company in a way because there will be a greater part of the expectations of bank and investors that that these things are included. And I think it was a valuable and important focus also at this conference that was like the starting point of our discussions here. So when I mentioned it is also that that I think that can be drivers in and the health and safety work which can be important. But the other things we spoke about for is also important is not only important to have important drivers more than regulators and so on, but we also have to have relevant tools to include to solve these problems. 

Yes. So with that and we're coming towards the end of our hour. So it's it's been a I couldn't believe it. I just looked at the time and all of like, holy cow, this is literally an hour has passed. It's gone a lot faster than I thought. So with that said and our discussions and everything that we've spoken about, to sum it up, I'd really like to hear your take on the importance of the worker in, in a summary sense and of encouragement and, and how that might be done, you know, to improve safety in the workplace. 

Johnny: Yeah, I think a very fundamental issue here is that the workers are heard, but not only heard. Listened to. Heard, also included because they have important knowledge and skills that can be included. So they should be more seen as a resource. So build up the safety system of a company and we saw examples of that in the conference here, I was very happy to see that you really use your workforce, in fact, as a

As a knowledge base in the sense, 

Johnny: As a very important knowledge base close to where the things are done in the. In the hard end the sharp end as you used to say, and not only in the blunt end but in the sharp end. And yes, they have solutions there. And if you give them time and room for involvement, the those companies might develop their safety much faster than others. But not only that, they will maybe also have a much better reputation because they are very good at including the workers. And that's maybe if it might be my last word, then I will use one key. Was seeing reputational risk maybe not is for some companies is already there but in the future many companies will work with reputational risk. ‘What are our reputations in our little community and in the larger community’ and this will be important for them in order to survive. Will I work in a workplace with a bad reputation and so on, because the shortage of workers have come in in this time. So this is to be a new, very important issue. And I look forward to next conference to see whether this piece of thinking will increase even more that reputational risk is so important. 

Interesting. So you're saying in the summary, the safety will be a decider of success of a company in future, whether people join the company, whether they win projects, all that sort of thing, safety will become even more important. 

Johnny: Yeah, because I heard for some are also the Australian researchers here who have made research on young workers, say what are your top five priorities? And income was not part of it. It was a good work life balance. They have a decent work they acknowledge for the time of work doing and so on. So other values may be coming in with a young workforce, or we have also to think about health and safety as is also a very important element in attracting a workforce. 

Well I think we've just got the topic of another podcast. 

Johnny: Yes, 

It's been far too quick. This Johnny, I would love to further expand on this and I'd I'd love to actually keep as we develop our tool to encourage workers to be safe. I'd love to keep probing you about that and to hear your feedback and that sort of thing. 

Johnny: Yeah

I really appreciate it. How much longer are you in Sydney? 

Johnny: I go home on Sunday, I just have to go see this: The Sydney Opera today because you know it was that a Danish architect who built it and it was as a 50th anniversary and I have one question I bring today; how many workers were killed or damaged while building the Sydney Opera House

Should I find out? This is in the swinging sixties. So what was the accident rate of the construction of the Sydney Opera House? So according to Google, as far as the record indicates, no workers died as a result of building the Sydney Opera House. That was not the same for the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We had 16 fatalities on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and only two of those were from falling, funnily enough. Yeah, but that was- oh, no. And now I have. I'm not exactly getting this from SafeWork Australia, so I can't verify the accuracy. But this one says there was, there was one fatality on the, on the Opera House, so. Okay, there you go. 

Johnny: Because I think it was very complex building construction project.

Yeah. You so. That's right. And in fact, this gets back to yours. Well, no, actually, the slow and fast thinking that whole project would have been done slow thinking really wouldn't it. You know, it's a long time. I think the budget was 7 million and it ended up costing about 107 million or something like that. But, you know, I think there's not this not a person that I know at least who lives in Sydney that regrets that building. We're all very proud of it. It was. It's. Yeah. And a Danish designer. That's true. Jorn Utzen. Magnificent building. 

Johnny: I look forward to enjoying it. And, like I have enjoyed the rest of the city. It was wonderful to be here. Thank you. 

Great. Oh, it's a pleasure. I'm glad we love the Danes. I was saying to Pernille earlier this week, we feel like a family now that Mary's in the family and everything else. So yeah, it's always a pleasure and thank you so much for taking some time out from your week to take care of us 

Johnny: Thank you for inviting me here.


James Kell: So there we have it, a fascinating deep dive into safety with Johnny Dyreborg. Thanks for listening and see you next podcast.

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