Awareness and Commitment Therapy-based training is a great way to teach employees to be more aware, reduce accidents and take ownership of their safety culture.
Research shows that workplace stress and distracted employees are very common, and often lead to unsafe actions, employee absences, and job-related illnesses. While most safety programs focus on training, engineering controls, and procedures, few employers address internal employee factors, such as thoughts, attentiveness, and personal values. Thus workplace safety tends to be solely managed by use of external agents, without considering mental barriers or internal motivations of workers.
A balanced safety program seeks to integrate both internal and external factors through combining traditional safety management systems with behavioral science techniques.
One such behavioral science tool — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) — has a wide variety of applications, according to researcher and author, D. J. Moran, PhD, BCBA-D. ACT-based training uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, as well as commitment to values to reinforce the safety culture.
The mindfulness (or connection to the present moment) incorporated by ACT techniques is vital to workplace safety, as many jobs or work tasks require full focus and concentration to prevent injury. Additionally, through ACT-based training, employees learn how to manage workplace stress and accept workplace safety as part of their personal values systems.
How to Implement the Program
Employers can leverage the fundamentals of ACT-based training by focusing on three main elements, according to Dr. Moran:
1. Mindfulness: The goal of mindfulness is to find meaningful ways for employees to stay in the moment and remain aware of surroundings while task focusing. Some companies have found offering yoga, t’ai chi or meditation classes have been beneficial, while other organizations use brief mental exercises designed to teach the fundamental aspects of remaining present in the moment.
Mindfulness exercises train workers to continually refocus when distractions occur and concentrate purposely on the task at hand. When mindfulness is practiced regularly, employees are less likely to be overwhelmed or distracted by stress, noisy environments or intrusive personal thoughts.
2. Values Clarifications: In The Mindful and Effective Employee: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Training Manual for Improving Well-Being and Performance, the authors define values as “the personal strengths or qualities a person most wants to express in his or her goals and daily patterns of action.” This is powerful for workplace applications.
Reframing safety from a compliance objective to a personal value can greatly improve workers’ outlook and behavior. Safety transforms from a requirement to a necessary and valued individual strength, and employees are more likely to adhere to values they hold dear. In demonstrating the power of values to actions, Boundless Management states, “Values influence behavior because people emulate the conduct they hold valuable.”
Through training discussions, EHS can guide workers to consider the qualities they would most like to be known for and link those with safe workplace conduct.
3. Acceptance: Not all stress can be avoided on the job. In fact, some stress comes with leading a productive life. The goal for EHS is to help employees recognize that stressors exist and that the feelings generated by stress are acceptable.
Roundtable discussions about stressful events at work and employee sharing forums can help workers understand and accept certain job-related stressors. Irate customers and production downtimes are more easily managed if employees can feel free to admit the emotions that come with these events.
Organizations that use internal and external focus toward implementing workplace changes can achieve great benefits through reduced employee stress, increased awareness of workers’ actions and surroundings, and better job performance.
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