How a masterclass in nudges decreased railway worker injuries and improved work processes by 180%

Intervention Health and Safety

Abstract

Railway workers incur a multitude of daily risks. From handling heavy-duty materials to exposure to noxious fumes, workplace safety and efficiency in railways necessitate strict adherence to rigorous safety standards. In order to overhaul their safety system, as well as improve efficiency and worker satisfaction, Danish railway giant DSB employed the help of behavioral science consultancy Krukow. Krukow employed a 4-step, experiential master class with leaders from DSB, who would apply nudges to their respective safety dilemmas. The results were fantastic, with workplace safety and efficiency climbing by 180%.

Rating: 3/5 (Improvement in participant wellbeing, published work lacks information, potential conflicts of interest)

How a master class in safety improved worker safety and efficiency
Condition Results
Control Pre-intervention measurements were not provided.
After introduction of master class Fewer injuries and 180% improvement in work processes

Key Concepts

Nudges: Nudges are gentle suggestions towards a desired outcome that are created by subtly altering the context in which we make our decisions. They often occur below our conscious awareness. 

Master Class: A class given by an expert in their discipline. Typically, it is designed to fit each specific student’s educational needs and curiosities. In this case, the behavioral design firm Krukow would be the “master”, and DSB leaders are the students. 

The Problem

While trains are a very safe form of transportation, working on railways can create dangerous environments for employees. Train maintenance requires plenty of risks. Heavy lifting, noxious paint fumes, and crowded areas can increase danger levels rapidly, especially in busier train stations. Many railway companies attempt to create rigorous safety standards to prevent their employees from getting into accidents; however, these new standards can often be ignored or are difficult to implement in an ever-changing industry. The railway companies needed to tweak their employees’ behavior enough that adhering to workplace standards would be the easiest option.

Design

The Danish Railway Company x Krukow Behavioral Design

With 7,400 employees spanning 298 stations, the Danish Railway Company (DSB) seemed like a likely candidate for this type of intervention. Furthermore, with 11,670 trains departing daily, the DSB’s workers were likely exposed to high levels of stress and danger. To combat this, they partnered with Krukow Behavioral Design, a global leading behavioral science consultancy in Denmark, and got to work on applying behavioral science insights. 

The Master Class

Targeting protective gear usage in crowded areas, the Krukow team used an educational master class program, which educated the leaders of each facet of train maintenance at DSB in practical methods of nudges and behavioral design. The master class was designed to slowly implement nudges in an experiential manner, meaning that the leaders at DSB would implement nudges as they went through the program. Thanks to this structure, they learned theoretical behavioral science while implementing nudges tailored towards their specific worker-safety issues. Krukow did not publish the details of their intervention design.

Results and Application

Fewer injuries and improved work processes

While a Master Class may seem like an abstract, educational venture that may not result in any tangible payoff, Krukow’s program led to incredibly tangible outcomes. The results that the DSB leaders and Krukow developed were effective, specific, and scalable. The intervention simultaneously lowered injuries and improved work processes by up to 180%. These interventions were inexpensive and capable of being scaled to every corner of DSB’s intricate railway empire. The intervention also improved DSB leaders’ knowledge and capabilities regarding behavioral science, which can likely lead to improved employee behavior in the long run. 

Industry

Application

Retail & Consumer Employees could undergo master classes with a focus on behavioural changes in order to improve on-the-job safety.
Financial Services Customers could elect to take a financial behaviour class from their bank or financial provider, in order to teach saving and investing nudges.
Education Teachers could be enrolled in a master class on the benefits of nudges in the classroom, ensuring best practice for their students.

Ethics

  • There could be conflicts of interest in this study, as both organizations have incentives to show effective results from this intervention. 
  • By reducing harm done to workers in high-risk environments the nudges helped promote a more just distribution of welfare.
  • There appears to be minimal risk in this experiment, however the lack of information on the nudges implemented makes it difficult to assess.

Yes

Room for improvement

Insufficient information/Not applicable

Welfare
Does the intervention demonstrably improve the lives of those affected by it? Yes, the intervention prevented accidents related to high-risk work processes and improved work processes overall.
Does the intervention respect the privacy (including the privacy of identity) of those it affects? All information was kept discrete. No information about the leaders or their subordinates was revealed in the study. 
Does the intervention have a plan to monitor the safety, effectiveness, and validity of the intervention? After the intervention, the development of safety standards included behavioral targets and employees were left with skills to improve and measure behavioral change.
Autonomy
Does the intervention abide by a reasonable degree of consent? It is unclear if the subordinates of the DSB leaders consented to be nudged into safety behaviors.
Does the intervention respect the ability of those it affects to make their own decisions? Yes, nudging implies no forced behavioral change or restriction of options.
Does the intervention increase the number of choices available to those it affects? Choices of employees likely remained the same after the intervention.
Equity
Does the intervention acknowledge the perspectives, interests, and preferences of everyone it affects, including traditionally marginalized groups? There could be conflicts of interest in this study, as both organizations have incentives to show effective results.More employee reviews of the intervention could be beneficial.
Are the participants diverse? No information on participant demographics included.
Does the intervention help ensure a just, equitable distribution of welfare? By reducing harm to workers in high-risk environments the intervention helps promote a more just distribution of welfare.

Related TDL Content

What Does Behavioral Science Have to Do With Transportation?

Further interested in how behavioral science can change the transportation industry? Look no further than The Decision Lab’s article on the subject. This piece is a deep dive into how to transform incentives and consumer behavior away from private transportation and towards highly efficient public transit options. 

Default bias and public safety 

Dangerous situations often arise due to the ease of choosing unsafe options, as we saw in this intervention. If you are interested in how nudges and default bias can help build safer communities, look no further than The Decision Lab’s breakdown of an OECD behavioral intervention in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Sources

Improving safety and work environment. krukow behavioral design. (n.d.). https://www.krukow.net/dsb.