PSYCHOLOGY OF SAFETY: People-Based Safety™ coaching

August 1, 2005
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Many of you are familiar with the basics of behavior-based safety (BBS). But the human dynamics of safety are more complex than mere checks on a behavioral checklist. For years managers have used behavioral data to hold people accountable. Now People-Based Safety (PBS) extends the standard BBS process to inspire people to hold themselves accountable.


PBS puts special focus on the actively caring process of interpersonal safety coaching.

Everyone coaches

You can obtain sufficient upstream behavioral numbers by assigning coaching duties to a select sample of a work force. Some BBS consultants advocate training a small percentage (perhaps ten percent) of line employees to be safety coaches. This can save both time and money and is “sold” on the appearance of efficiency.

It’s also easier and more efficient to exclude management from the coaching process. A number of BBS consultants train only the hourly work force to conduct behavioral observation and feedback sessions.

People-Based Safety presents a broader vision — everyone coaches for safety, managers and line workers alike. Everyone learns the principles and procedures of behavior-based observation and feedback.


Because coaching develops the self-directed accountability needed for long-term impact. Coaches feel obligated to adopt the principles and procedures they teach and advocate. To be sure, it might be necessary to start a PBS coaching process with a select number of workers. It depends on your work culture, especially the level of interpersonal trust that exists.

PBS teaches and advocates both “formal” and “informal” coaching. Formal coaching parallels the standard BBS application of a critical behavior checklist. Informal coaching involves brief personal conversations to maintain daily attention to safe and risky behaviors and conditions throughout a workplace.

By focusing on the process more than checklists and numbers, PBS increases the quantity and quality of informal coaching. This leads to self-coaching, an essential process for the safety of lone workers.

Empathy is essential

In addition to informal conversations, empathy plays a critical role in PBS. The Platinum Rule — “Treat others as they want to be treated”— is especially pertinent for PBS coaching. Like client-centered or humanistic therapy, the focus is on the perceptions and feelings of the individual being coached. Behavior and environmental conditions are observed from this person’s perspective, and feedback communication is supportive and nondirective. By this I mean feedback is not delivered to direct specific behavior change, but to empower personal responsibility and self-accountability.

It might be efficient to assume people want the same things you want. But it’s more effective to discover the needs and perceptions of others before choosing a treatment or intervention approach. Even when the eventual tactic is the same as you would have selected, because you asked first, you can expect greater acceptance, appreciation, and ownership.

This is but a brief overview of the coaching component of

PBS. I’ve given particular emphasis to certain qualities that distinguish it from standard BBS coaching. PBS principles and procedures evolved from BBS, and should be viewed as an extension of BBS, rather than a substitution.

SIDEBAR 1: Beyond observation & feedback

Unique features of PBS coaching can make any observation and feedback process more effective. They include:


  • Focus on process over numbers;
  • Aim to get everyone coaching, including supervisors;
  • Promote both formal and informal coaching;
  • Develop self-coaching through self-talk and self-accountability; and,
  • Emphasize the underlying philosophy of empathy.

SIDEBAR 2: Essentials of People-Based Safety: ACTS

Act to prevent injuries.

Coach one another to identify barriers to safe acts and provide constructive behavior-based feedback.

Think in ways that activate and support safe behavior.

Focus and scan to See hazards.

“ACTS” provides knowledge, skills and tools to fully address the human dynamics of workplace safety.

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