Spelling out the keys to behavioral-based safety

January 11, 2009
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Misconceptions and reluctance have plagued the behavioral-based safety movement throughout its development and some misunderstandings still exist. Several theories and strategies have been applied to behavioral- based safety. But most would agree that critical elements spell out the same.



Benchmark the work environment; the culture. Conducting a cultural survey before any training and implementation has begun is a key activity in designing the process best suited for a particular facility. This survey (utilizing a sizable sample), offers the opportunity to surface barriers, whether real or perceived. It measures such things as trust, perceptions of work conditions and safe practices occurring, to name a few. A survey can also produce constructive suggestions and solutions as well as point to informal leaders.

Empower all employees. One of the mainstays of BBS is to gain involvement and participation by the entire workplace population, including all levels of employees. Employees must feel confident that they will have input into developing and refining the process. It is important to balance employee-driven vs. management-driven and work towards a concerted effort with all playing roles in all phases of the safety process.

Honor commitments. Commitment to a behavioral-based process is critical, especially by management and supervision. Without it, any process is earmarked for failure. Trust between management/supervision and front-line employees has been tenable at best in many companies. Commitment to implementing a BBS process is a step towards building trust. If this commitment is not honored, whatever trust existed will disappear and rebuilding is an uphill battle.

Accountabilities built in. Roles and responsibilities need to be defined early and a system of accountability at all levels of the workforce developed. All must play by the same rules and be held accountable for their areas of responsibility. The ultimate goal is for individuals to hold themselves accountable.

Value-purpose determined. Formal and informal values exist within a work culture. The challenge is to blend these values into a successful safety process. When employees are allowed to be involved in the structure of the process, utilizing their value system, true purpose to the process evolves for most individuals.

Involve all employees upfront. In advance of any training, development, and implementation for a BBS process, everyone must be made aware of what this type of process is all about, what they can expect down the road and what their involvement will be.

Observations made daily. One of the products of a BBS process is the creation of area observation checklists, defining all the safe practices and conditions desired in a particular work area. An agreed-upon number of observations covering all areas over time, should be done daily to truly measure success in increasing safe practices and improving conditions. Observations are made on a random basis and the number ranges depending on the employee population size.

Reinforce positively. This practice cannot be overstated. It is well-documented that people will do more of what is desired when they are positively reinforced. Doing things right is often taken for granted and expected with little or no recognition. This is not to say that discipline has no place in a process, but that positive reinforcement needs to be added and should come first. When discipline is necessary and given and, in following, people change their behaviors, immediate reinforcement must take place.

Area analysis on-going. A Lead Team, comprised of management, supervision and front-line employees break down a facility into areas easily observed. It is systematically determined, with input from all area workers, what the desired practices and conditions are for that area. It is critical that no “cookie-cutter” checklists be utilized. Once an area checklist is completed it is dynamic and needs to be evaluated for changes to areas on a continuous basis.

Leading indicators used. Traditionally, companies have relied on measuring safety using lagging indicators – results based on lack of bad results; lack of accidents or low number of accidents – things that have already happened. Leading indicators can be derived by measuring safe and unsafe practices, collecting near misses for resolution – all preventative actions as opposed to reactive actions.



Blaming concept dispelled. One of the leading misconceptions of a BBS process is that looking at behaviors is looking for blame in the workers. It must be strongly communicated that the process is looking at desired practices, conditions and areas for improvement as defined by all.

Allow time for the process. A large hurdle for a BBS process is the misconception that a lot of time is required by employees. No so. Monthly meetings and daily observations time is very little compared the savings in improved safety. Once the steps to the process have been defined, all involved must be provided the time to accomplish these activities. This is part of the initial commitment. In addition, in reference to time, it must be expected that huge changes will not occur overnight just because a BBS process has been implemented.

Seek out informal leaders. Informal leaders in the workforce are usually well recognized. They play an important role in the success of any change; their buy-in can be critical. Champions often surface in the planning and training stages. They need to be encouraged to become informal leaders and decisions makers.

Evaluate continually. Over time, changes in personnel, physical character of the facility, economics, etc. occur. The process must be continually monitored in order to be adjusted to meet these changes.

Design “near-miss” reporting into process. What better way is there to prevent accidents than by looking at events that just missed being an accident? Collecting near-misses, determining causes, correcting and communicating them as well as positively reinforcing this type of reporting can help reduce accidents and injury rates.



Shortcuts avoided. Once all the parameters of the process have been agreed upon, it is important that all steps be followed. Shortcuts to save time can be detrimental to the success of the process.

Ask questions and solicit input. Management needs to “walk-about” periodically and talk to the front line workers. Specific questions about their perception of the process and soliciting areas for improvement or addition can go a long way to building trust.

Find multiple paths of communication. The level of participation in any process is proportionate to the level of communication between all levels of employees. People feel connected when they are in the communication loop. It is also helpful to solicit ideas from employees for methods of communication.

Example set by management/supervision. It is very important that leadership “walk the talk”. Management and supervision set the example in exhibiting safe behaviors and thus realize significant positive changes. To affect a healthy cultural change, the behaviors of all must change: leadership, organizational and workforce.

True journey. The elements listed here are not all-inclusive, but they are contributing factors to build a true journey, an incremental process, toward a successful behavioral-based safety process.

Yardstick-Incremental measurement. Frequent and timely measurement in order to determine trends is crucial. It provides more opportunity for identifying areas for improvement and reasons for celebration of successes. Just as a football team is cheered for five-yard gains as well as touchdowns, incremental gains in the BBS process need to be recognized and congratulated.



Resource: Behavior based safety, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavior-based_safety

SIDEBAR: How is BBS Spelled?

Benchmark work environment
Empower all employees
Honor commitments
Accountabilities built in
Value/purpose determined
Involve all employees upfront
Observations made daily
Reinforce positively
Area Analysis on-going
Leading indicators used

Blaming concept dispelled
Allow time for process
Seek out informal leaders
Evaluate continually
Design “near-misses” into process

Short cuts avoided
Ask questions and solicit input
Find multiple paths of communications
Example set by Management/Supervision
True journey
Yardstick-incremental measurement

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