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Written by
on 25 February 2019


Health and safety is unsexy and boring. In fact, of all the many factors involved in a project, health and safety is one of the least popular. Media coverage of poor practice, or ridiculous ‘elf n safety’ cases have helped to bring the discipline into disrepute.

Obstructive, annoying, inefficient, pointless, expensive – the excuses you often hear muttered around a workplace. In fact, many workers are downright hostile to health and safety rules, making them a danger to themselves and their colleagues.

Which is where ‘gamification’ can help. By injecting some ‘fun’ into proceedings, you can better engage your workers in the processes and procedures that can keep them safe on site.

What is gamification?

Despite the unfriendly name, gamification is about making learning more engaging through the use of game elements. Or more simply, making the learning process like a game.

That is not to say gamified learning is reduced to a series of childish exercises. Instead, it works by exploiting the three principles of modern gaming – an overall mission (sense of purpose), a challenge, and a reward.

By integrating these elements in a training regime, business trainers believe that they can better engage employees on all levels. Employees are rewarded for investing time, effort and attention in the mission, and for a meeting (beating) the challenges set as part of an ongoing program of continuous improvement.

What does gamification actually look like?

As you would expect from a relatively new, novel approach, gamified learning models vary widely between businesses. The very nature of the construction industry means that learning regimes will be very different from those in the retail sector for instance – but the underlying principles remain the same.

It may sound somewhat crazy, but a well-known supermarket (the division responsible for engineering projects in the chain’s UK supermarkets) recently tested out the gamification concept using a board game. Eventually, over 3000 employees were involved in the exercise.

The game itself was modelled on the layout of a typical superstore. Playing in small teams, contestants moved around the board using their knowledge of in-store health and safety issues to score points. At the same time, they had to avoid the ‘unsafe acts’ and ‘unsafe conditions’ squares that would send them backwards.

Key to the game’s success is the use of fun. Employees were encouraged to enjoy themselves as they played the game. And the good-natured banter between teams helped to introduce some friendly rivalry – people wanted to win. And to win, they had to use and share their personal expertise in health and safety around the store.

Is this ‘dumbing down’ health and safety?

According to educators reviewing the experiment, the use of fun is absolutely critical to the long term success of the training program. Because workers were actively engaged in the game, they retained more of the principles that were being taught. It also made participants more likely to uphold health and safety standards as they work.

Game playing may sound childish, another step towards dumbing down one of the most important functions of the workplace. But gamification is about engagement, not trivialisation.

The reality is that many workers are completely disengaged from the rules that keep them safe on site. Without context or input, workers see themselves as being subject to, rather than involved in, these processes. Many workers simply feel alienated.

Gamification uses fun to overcome this sense of alienation by helping employees understand that they do have a valuable role to play in health and safety issues. Their knowledge and experience will be the difference between safe and unsafe workplaces – and they are to be encouraged to play their part.

Health and safety don’t have to be a bore – there are fun ways to teach and reinforce the principles your staff need to work safely.

Playing safe on site

Gamification doesn’t have to end in the training room either. Similar principles of gentle competition can be used to raise standards on site too. You could reward employees for identifying and correcting safety issues for instance. This approach encourages workers to be more proactive in protecting themselves and their colleagues.

With careful planning, you could create a health and safety league, that awards points for injury-free working. This encourages teams to look out for the welfare each other and to exercise health and safety best practice. The introduction of a level of competition also encourages workers to learn more about what they are doing, and how to carry out tasks more safely.

Each team can accrue points, and at the end of a specified period, the highest scorers are rewarded in some way. Just make sure the prize is worth their hard work!

On-site rivalry is healthy – when carefully managed. The site controller will need to carefully monitor the progress and performance of their teams – and step in quickly if there is a risk of competitiveness going too far. Otherwise, the element of fun quickly disappears, and people begin to disengage again.

Next steps with gamification

Effective gamification requires careful planning and a good dash of creativity – it’s not something that spontaneously happens at the next toolbox talk. The board game is one example of how gamification might work – but it may not be the right approach for your business and employees.

For further help and advice, you should secure the services of a health and safety expert like Veritas Consulting. Our team can expose the various knowledge gaps in your team, and to identify opportunities for fun that will re-engage employees.

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A chartered safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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