The following is excerpted from Dr. Grainne Matthews' keynote speech at the Behavioral Safety Now 2015 Conference.  BSN 2016 will be held October 11-11-13 in Jacksonville, Florida.

What behavioral patterns characterize happy and satisfied people?  Research has shown seven patterns of activities for generally happy people. 

1 - Meaning, purpose, strengths and success. Happy people believe their lives have meaning. They believe that they are contributing to an important purpose. They believe that they are personally making a contribution — something that uses their personal strengths. And they believe that they are being successful in contributing to an important and meaningful goal— that they’re effective. 

2 - Mindfulness - Happy people practice focusing their attention on the present moment — not thinking about the meeting I just left or the meeting I’m going to but focusing my attention consciously on the moment I am in. 

3 - Gratitude – Happy people practice focusing on what’s good.

4 - Physical wellness – Happy people are physically active at whatever level is possible for them. Happy people are not necessarily athletes but they are physically moving.

5 - Giving back & altruism – Happy people contribute their time. They volunteer their time and energy and skills to help other people. And they donate money to charitable causes.

6 - Authenticity, vulnerability & forgiveness – Happy people have the courage to express their real feelings and say what they really mean. They understand that we all make mistakes and they forgive others. 

7 - Social connection, empathy & compassion – Happy people develop close relationships.  They work at developing those relationships. They try to understand other people’s perspective and they try to accept people as they are. 

What does this all have to do with behavior-based safety? I believe that behavioral safety offers each of us an opportunity to practice these habits of a good life. And I believe that through practicing behavioral safety, we have an opportunity to build a life that is satisfying and happy. 

Embracing the process

Clearly when you embrace a behavioral safety process, you have special skills. Not everyone can do what you’re doing. You are using your personal strengths when you contribute to a behavioral safety process.

So not only are you doing something important. Not only are you doing something effective. Not only are you contributing and giving back to other people, but you’re using your personal strengths. 

Let’s look in more detail at a typical behavioral safety process – developed at Tucson Electric Power. By designing a process that addressed specific risks and work tasks at their power plant team members were certainly giving back to their coworkers and they were using their personal expertise on the risks and the job tasks to create a process that would be effective.

When you create your behavioral safety process design team members work for many hours to figure out what will work best for themselves and their coworkers. They’re figuring out how to work together as a team. It’s hard work. But throughout that effort, they are strengthening social connections with colleagues throughout the workplace. Being a part of a design team contributes to a lasting life satisfaction by having better social relationships.

Achieving gratitude and mindfulness

Can your participation in behavior safety help with a good life in other ways? Let’s look at the most visible part of any behavioral safety process – in this case one at Linbeck Construction in Houston.  T Bone and Ronnie are two carpenters who work for Linbeck. When T Bone is conducting an observation, looking for safe behaviors to give positive feedback on, he is practicing gratitude. Research on gratitude says it is the process of looking for anything good, not only about your own life that we increase our happiness. You don’t even have to find anything. By looking for what is good you increase your happiness. Research on gratitude also tells us if you tell somebody the good things that you’ve noticed about them, you strengthen your social connections. 

When T Bone actually watches Ronnie work he is practicing a kind of mindfulness. You can’t be thinking about what’s for lunch while you’re doing an observation. I would argue that when we’re conducting observations, we’re practicing mindfulness — focusing our attention on the present moment. 

Feedback that comes from someone whose opinion is important to you is more effective than feedback from a supervisor or a safety professional who you don’t know as well.  Ronnie and T Bone worked together for about ten years when we started Linbeck’s BBS process and they were still working together the last time I talked to them. They have a relationship. That relationship strengthens the power of T Bone’s feedback but it also makes it a risk for T Bone.  He’s making himself vulnerable by approaching a coworker with a clipboard, standing there in silence while the coworker is working and then providing him specific positive feedback about his work habits. 

I believe when you pick up a checklist and conduct an observation and provide feedback to one of your coworkers, you are having the courage to be vulnerable — another one of the characteristics of a good life.

Giving back and being authentic

Sometimes I’ll teach 20 different classes to groups of people on how to do observations and I’ll show the same work sample 20 different times. And every single time somebody will point out something new that nobody else has brought up. Each one of us brings our own personal experience and perspective to our observations. We are making a unique contribution. Tough as they are to do, observations are an important way of giving back.

Another feature of the observation that makes them effective is how sincere the feedback is or how much the person means what they’re saying. If you really mean your positive feedback and you really mean what you’re saying when you express your concerns, I would argue you’re being authentic.  You’re having an authentic interaction — another of the characteristics of a good life.   

With behavioral safety we’re not only building a good life for ourselves and increasing our own satisfaction and happiness; maybe we’re also affecting the happiness of others.

Treating with dignity

The final piece of the puzzle is to use information given by the observed people and collected by the observers and do something with it — what we call safety action plans. Steering teams have two goals:

1. Remove the obstacles to safe behavior

2. Encourage people to conduct quality observations and feedback

Tucson Electric reported to me, and they’re not the first ones, that they appreciate the opportunity to have a forum, a system that allows them to cooperate with management to improve safety. Rather than complaining like children to their parents about issues that they face, behavioral safety gives them the dignity of being treated with respect for their experience and knowledge.

Benefits of being useful

I believe behavioral safety has been successful for 40 years and will be successful for more because we provide people with the opportunity to build elements of a good life. 

I’ve always thought of behavioral safety as sort of like a prism. By implementing one apparently simple process, many magical, wonderful effects happen. Prisms seem like magic and I have always argued that behavioral safety, although entirely scientific and empirical, can seem like magic. That interaction between two people — its effects cannot be quantified. Behavioral safety has worked its magic on me. In my 20 years of working with different teams around the country, around the world to help them implement behavioral safety, I have felt the greatest joy from the gift of being useful, of contributing.

After studying the philosopher John Locke, Thomas Jefferson made some notes and sent these notes to his friend. His summary, the moral of the story: happiness is the aim of life. And virtue or doing good is the foundation of happiness, but utility, effectiveness is the test of virtue.

The moral of my story is that pursuing happiness is the meaning of life. The way to be happy is to live a good life — in Jefferson’s terms, a virtuous life. But you are really living a good life when you are effective in your contributions, having utility in Jefferson’s terms. 

Your involvement in behavioral safety, a proven method for helping people work safely, and your attendance at this conference — trying to be more effective in your implementation of behavioral safety — means that you’ve already discovered the meaning of life.