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Correcting misconceptions about behavior-based safety

August 24, 2011
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anonymousI'd like to correct some common misconceptions about behavior-based safety (BBS) that I saw in a recent ISHN web exclusive article.

1) Behavior Science, which BBS is based on, looks to the environment to explain and manage behavior. To say that BBS blames the worker is not consistent with the science and practice of BBS. Instead, when at-risk behaviors are identified through anonymous observations, we conduct an ABC (activator, behavior, consequence) analysis to determine the environmental influences that need to be addressed to reduce the risk in the future. (I make this point in the May 2011 ISHN article "What you can learn from falling on your butt.")

2) Incentives are a topic of interest in behavioral sciences. However, our research in incentives clearly show that "you get what you pay for" and it usually isn't what you want because the easiest route to the incentive will be taken. Thus, in practice, when we teach and implement BBS, we very much discourage the use of incentives.  Incentives "chill" reporting (much like we've seen recently with Norfolk Southern) and should not be used.

3) Finally, the purpose of ANONYMOUS observations is to assure that management never hears about or acts against anyone who gives permission for an observation.  In fact, when BBS is part of culture change where the employees "own" the program (see "It’s not my car: It’s all about ownership" in the June 2011 ISHN), management never sees individual observations, only summaries of data. The observation cards are only turned in for aggregated analyses and trending.

 Timothy D. Ludwig, Ph.D. editor, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, professor, Department of Psychology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC;
ludwigtd@appstate.edu

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