Keeping OSHA recordable injuries low is a top concern for anyone involved in American workplace health and safety. Your total recordable incident rate, TRIR, can have a huge impact on company well-being. And a high TRIR is an indicator that your safety culture isn’t as strong as it could be. Those who work outside the US may use different terminology for their safety tracking, but the struggle is the same: helping everyone go home safe at the end of their shift.

What Are OSHA Recordable Injuries?

The OSHA recordable injuries definition makes it clear that it doesn’t take much to experience a recordable incident. Any injury that requires more than a first aid kit must be reported. Other OSHA recordable injuries include: if a worker loses consciousness; if their work must be restricted; if they must be transferred to a different job or they must take days away from work; or if a work-related health issue is diagnosed by a medical professional.

On your OSHA incident report, each one of these incidents counts equally, regardless of the severity: a small cut that requires a few stitches carries as much weight as a broken bone or debilitating back strain.

This is why it’s important to address safety details while trying to keep your TRIR low—because even small incidents can cause big problems, and overlooking routine details can lead to catastrophes. A careless trip or fall could result in a broken wrist. A hotel cleaning person pushing down trash could get punctured by a diabetic guest’s inappropriately-disposed-of needle.

Effective communication is at the heart of implementing any safety message.

Communication Breakdown

Most health and safety managers understand that common workplace injuries are preventable. But in some circumstances, even when they perform the necessary safety training, accidents continue to happen.

When it comes to converting that training into safer behavior, some employees continue to habitually do whatever they want. You’ve told them not to push down trash, but that’s how they’ve always done it, and now you have to add one more incident to your list of OSHA recordable injuries.

Maybe they were in a hurry. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. Maybe they don’t think your protocols are important. Or maybe you haven’t communicated in a way that resonates and motivates them to create—and stick to—safer habits.

The Four Tendencies: Communicate Effectively and Change Habits

Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin is an expert on habits and happiness. While doing research about how to change habits for her 2015 book, Better Than Before, Rubin noticed patterns of behavior that had to do with how people respond to expectations—like following safety rules.

She pared down her findings into her popular Four Tendencies framework, which divides us based on how we respond to inner expectations—those we put on ourselves—and outer expectations—those others put on us.

The tendencies, listed from most common to least, are:

  • Obliger: meets outer expectations but struggles with inner expectations
  • Questioner: meets inner expectations, but questions outer expectations
  • Upholder: meets outer and inner expectations
  • Rebel: doesn’t meet inner or outer expectations

In this six-minute video, Rubin goes into more depth about her tendencies theory:


Each one of us, the theory holds, has a core tendency. We may exhibit a little of one or another tendency, but there will be one that dominates.

“When you know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you’re better able to set yourself up for success,” says Rubin in a Psychology Today article, “... and if you’re trying to help other people to change their habits, you’re more effective.”

That is, you’ll be better able to get workers to follow safety protocols, willingly—a crucial step toward generating fewer OSHA accident reports.

One important feature of the tendencies is that there’s no hierarchy: one tendency isn’t better or worse than another. And tendencies don’t indicate what you will be better able to do or not able to do. It’s only a matter of how to get yourself or others to do something. The tendency theory highlights how important it is to recognize that the path to change varies from person to person.

“It’s very hard to fight the impulse to assume that people see the world the way you do. People are really different from each other,” Rubin said in an interview with Goop. “So, when you have a word for it, and you see how they’re responding differently, all of a sudden you don’t have to take it personally. For instance, if a Questioner is asking you question after question after question—you don’t have to feel defensive, or like he or she is undermining your authority. It’s just who they are. I think this can take away a lot of conflict and help people get where they’re going faster.”

A Four Tendencies Workplace Safety Example

To get a better understanding of how the four tendencies might play out in a workplace safety scenario, consider the example of getting workers to switch to a safer cutting tool. Hand lacerations almost exclusively result from using dangerously sharp blades, so solving this issue would go a long way in reducing this common workplace injury.

Your Upholders are likely to start using the safer tool without hesitation because meeting any expectations comes easily. Whether a safety manager is implementing a protocol or it’s the right thing to do for themselves, Upholders stick to whatever expectations are put on them. Remember to recognize and reward Upholders for their efforts; everyone enjoys positive feedback.

Obligers benefit from ongoing outer accountability. You won’t always be around to encourage them to follow protocol, and if they’re left to rely on their own motivation to choose the new tool over an old familiar tool, they may flag in their efforts. Create a system or assign a partner to whom they can routinely be accountable.

Your Questioners won’t be so quick to follow along just because you say so. They need to understand why you insist that they switch to this new tool. Be ready to provide answers or preempt their questions with a list of reasons why this tool will improve their safety and the safety of other people.

Rebels can be a tricky bunch because they don’t like to be told what to do by anyone, not even themselves! You need to provide them the opportunity to voluntarily choose to do something like use a safer cutting tool. Perhaps have them help in the tool selection process, so the tool they use is their choice.

In a Time article, Rubin points out that some Rebels like a challenge or to defy expectations. Rebels love to break with convention. “Many ‘Rebels with a cause’ use their rebel spirit to support the principles and purposes they believe in,” Rubin states in Time. “Rebels like to establish their own, often idiosyncratic, way of doing things.”

Harness this by giving them some free rein to discover ways to stay safe while cutting. Empower them to find safer cutting tool alternatives, like Slice, which makes the only tools that feature finger-friendly® blades. These tools are unique on the market, which could readily appeal to a Rebel.

Another approach for Rebels is to set a “no lacerations” monthly challenge, and ask workers to help figure out the best ways to make using the new tools convenient and appealing. Let them know you’re open to other safety suggestions as well. Your Rebels may be the most eager to find new approach to solving the common problem of lacerations.

Any way you can frame a situation so that it goes against the norm will help get the attention of Rebels. Rebels can be challenging, but when you get them on board, you may find they’re your strongest allies.

Put Tendencies to the Test

Rubin created a short online quiz to determine what tendency someone falls into. You can present this at a safety moment, with a short explanation about the tendencies and how knowing them could help everyone create a safer workplace.

You may want to share your own tendency and let people know ways that you’ve benefited from this insight. After a month or so of introducing this concept, invite workers to share ways they’ve changed their own habits or worked with others based on the tendencies framework.

Armed with your knowledge about the Four Tendencies, how will you apply them to lower your OSHA recordable injuries?