Behavior-Based Safety 101

16 Aug
Behavior Based Safety


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Safe + Sound Week

When an organization expresses the objective to have a strong safety culture, definitions can vary widely among top management as to what that actually means. According to the UK Health & Safety Commission, a safety culture is “the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety management.”

A strong safety culture has a number of characteristics in common. An organization’s safety culture is ultimately reflected in the way that safety is managed in the workplace, including the actionable steps that should be taken to reach the ultimate goal.

The Science of Behavior

Implementing a Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) approach is one way to create a robust safety culture. BBS involves applying the “science of behavior” to change real-world safety problems. Essentially, BBS aims to increase safe behavior while reducing hazards and risks by examining the motivation behind the underlying behaviors of workers. BBS relies on complete trust and cooperation between every employee—from top management to operation-level employees—to be successful.

Cooperation means working together to develop a strong safety program (e.g., management involving line workers in creating safety policies and procedures). It means that management seeks feedback from workers about safety issues—and uses that feedback to make improvements. And it means that there is no blame when incidents occur. Incident investigations focus on fact finding, not fault finding. Trust in the safety program, in senior management, and in each other is built when each of these characteristics is present and treated as a company-wide priority.

Creating a BBS Program

The hallmark of BBS programs is their aim to provide effective feedback, reinforcement, and recognition to the employees to improve safety conditions in the workplace and increase situational awareness based on behavioral observations. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) recommends following these eight steps to create a BBS program:

  1. Create a team that will initiate the BBS program.
  2. List targeted behaviors that are deemed unsafe. These can be taken from safety audits, near miss reports, toolbox talks, etc.
  3. Create a BBS checklist that any employee can fill out completely when they observe an unsafe behavior. Behaviors should be:
    • Observable (i.e., seen or heard)
    • Reliable (i.e., witnessed the same way by more than one person)
    • Something the employee can control
    • Described in a positive way (i.e., what should be done vs. what shouldn’t be done)
    • Objective (i.e., not based on opinions or interpretations)
  4. Determine the measurement system that can count the frequency of safe and unsafe behaviors.
  5. Conduct behavioral observations.
  6. Provide appropriate feedback depending on the behavior of the employees. Positive verbal feedback is a powerful way to reinforce safe behavior and a cornerstone of effective BBS. 
  7. Use the data gathered from observing employees and make necessary changes.
  8. Work with employees determine which behavior(s) or process(es) needs improvement.

BBS is an effective tool for involving all employees in creating a strong safety culture—one that employees will not only buy into but embrace as the way the organization does business. Done effectively, BBS creates the positive reinforcement, non-judgmental feedback, leadership influence, and an environment of trust that are all key characteristics of a strong safety culture.

Does your organization rely on BBS to support its safety culture?

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