What's your experience with behavioral safety?

May 23, 2000
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The term "behavior-based safety" has become quite popular among safety professionals, consultants, and members of safety steering committees. It’s commonly used to describe a proactive approach to injury prevention that focuses on at-risk behaviors that can lead to an injury -or on safe behaviors that can contribute to injury prevention. But beyond this general definition there seems to be much confusion or misunderstanding about behavior-based safety.

As evidence, I refer you to a June, 1996, article in Safety + Health titled, "Does Behavior-Based Safety Work?" and recent texts on safety management (one written by Rudy Yandrick titled Behavioral Risk Management, Jossey Bass, 1996; and another edited by Richard Lack entitled Essentials of Safety and Health Management, Lewis Publishers, 1996).

Some consulting firms prescribe a particular, sometimes licensed, set of procedures for implementing behavior-based safety; others teach a more flexible approach and help companies customize behavior-based procedures for their own culture. And some consultants integrate subjective humanistic concepts, such as personal values, self-esteem, and sense of belonging, into a behavior-based safety process.

Varied approaches to behavior-based safety have been accompanied by substantial marketing investments, including promotional flyers, magazine ads, videotapes, conference exhibits and speeches, and articles in safety periodicals. All this has led to a broad range of opinions regarding what behavior-based safety is and whether or not it works to reduce injuries.

This page contains a brief questionnaire about behavior-based safety that I hope you will print out, complete and return to my university address via mail or fax. This survey merely asks a few easy-to-answer questions to assess your opinion about the topic and related issues. Your answers will remain completely anonymous, and I’ll report the results in a later issue of Industrial Safety & Hygiene News. My associates and I in the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech were recently awarded a two-year research grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to study the critical success factors for behavior-based safety, and your answers to this survey will contribute to our research effort.

One aspect of our research includes on-site evaluation of behavior-based safety procedures. These procedures may be currently in progress or perhaps attempted in the past but not presently in effect. The procedures may have been successful or perhaps ineffective. We plan to visit ten companies reporting exemplary success with a behavior-based safety process and ten companies reporting unsuccessful implementation and/or maintenance of behavior-based safety. During these site visits, we’ll conduct structured interviews and hold focus-group meetings. If you are interested in learning more about our research process, or perhaps participating as a site for our evaluation process, please mail or fax me your name, address, and phone number at my university address listed at the end of this article. Or you can phone me or one of my associates at (540) 231-8145. We intend to begin our on-site surveys and interviews in the spring of 1997.

Upcoming ISHN articles will report practical results from this research, which includes the field studies and large-scale surveys. You can contribute to the first phase of this important research by completing and returning the opinion survey on this page. Thank you in advance for taking the time to support our research mission.

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