1. It’s not breathing. 

The fix revolves around a virtual intervention like a new form rather than a real-life behaviour that is coached purposefully by someone of influence. The virtual fix is often easier to do than the real fix, it can be audited easily and provides the illusion of success. Don’t get sucked in, the completed form is no substitute for the observation of the behaviour. 

2. It’s a zombie 

A new form is introduced to help with the virtual fix, it has Yes/No checks boxes, that trigger the behaviour of checking the YES box in order to get to the end of the form. It is mindless and lacks any imagination or signs of actually creating an environment that would prompt any action. Instead, consider empty text boxes that require some narrative and thought, these are far more valuable than most YES/NO checklists. 

3. It’s never seen a duck 

The new or changed process has been designed by the safety department in isolation from operations. It provides no real assistance in doing the required job but does provide a record for audit purposes. Instead, speak with those involved to identify the pinpointed behaviour, then get them to come up with ideas of how they can create the environment that supports it. 

4. A duck knows what to do 

After an incident, the investigation recommends re-train and re-brief as actions to prevent reoccurrence. This assumes that the person involved did not listen or pay attention or failed to have understood the initial training or instruction. If this were the case, will repeating it or shouting louder make a difference? See re-train and re-brief as red flags and go find the real reason for the behaviour (the answer is in the context). 

5. Stop Quacking Now! 

Just stop it! You must under no circumstances do the behaviour you have been doing for the past ‘X’ amount of days/weeks/years. Mistakenly thinking that telling someone to stop doing something that has been happening repeatedly will prevent reoccurrence. There is always a reason for the behaviour, go and find what it is and then help fix it. 

6. You suck at being a duck. 

Behaviour change initiatives often try to change the attitudes of the individuals most at-risk. This assumes that they must be coming to work to purposefully hurt themselves and that reminding them of their loved ones will somehow get them to do things differently. Well, no one comes to work to injure themselves and behaviours change attitudes, not the other way round. Get people to do more of the things you want by making the behaviour easier to do. 

7. You don’t have to be a duck, you can be who you want to be. 

Choose to be safe… Is not going to get you any improvement in behaviour. Why? Because who thinks they are choosing to be unsafe? No one! That person, doing that behaviour that you class as unsafe has a whole reinforcement history telling them that it is safe, that they are safe. For one, they are not dead yet. And for another, they are managing to get the work done for you. You most probably have a role in reinforcing their ‘un-safe’ behaviour every day. It is no longer a choice if it ever was. 

8. Duck execution. 

Threatening people with disciplinary in order to increase safe behaviours is, well, just there to make you feel better… so stop it. 

Written by Bob Cummins

If you want to hear more from Bob Cummins he will be speaking at our next event The SHE Show North East, 26th April 2022, St James’ Park, Newcastle United Football Club.


Bob Cummins, Director, Sodak

 I help companies create safer, more secure, healthier and more effective places of work. I am an engineer, I used to be a civil engineer, I’m now a behavioural engineer. I specialise in helping leaders create environments that bring out the best in their people through the application of behavioural science. I run Sodak Limited, a behaviour design agency. My background is construction, in the later part of my career, I specialised in health and safety. 

I become increasingly disheartened and frustrated with the way it was all heading. Piles of procedures and paperwork, increasingly patronising initiatives and the incessant preaching that “all harm was preventable”. I mean, come on, how can all harm be preventable when we still rely on people? 

Safety just isn’t a priority; if it were, we would be given unlimited budget and time. No, safety has to be a value. Some harm will befall some people during their lives. We need to recognise this and continually improve, not shut down conversations because we are too scared to admit someone, somewhere might get hurt. 

Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.