In this article, the second in a series of three on teamwork, I want to describe the functions of seven different teams that you can set up within an organization to capitalize on the injury-prevention potential of behavior-based safety.

Although each one has a unique purpose and completes certain tasks independent of other teams, remember that no team operates in isolation. Each depends on the output of other teams to maximize the benefits of behavior-based safety. As W. E. Deming taught us, teams need to work together to optimize the system.

Safety steering team

A safety steering team plays a critical policy-making, oversight, and general support function in developing and implementing behavior-based processes. Before creating a safety steering team, it's important to look at the existing team or committee structure in your organization. You don't want to duplicate the efforts of the safety department, or some other relevant standing committee. A current employee committee might be able to take on the responsibility of coordinating the various aspects of behavior-based safety.

The safety steering team is probably the largest of the behavior-based safety teams, and should include representation from the various work levels in a plant or department. Most of these team members are line workers or operators, although it's often useful to have management representation to help obtain the necessary and continuous support from supervisory personnel. My partners and I at Safety Performance Solutions have seen the size and makeup of this team vary widely across work cultures. Many consist only of union members and are quite large. The most common size is 10 to 12 members.

Observation and feedback team

There are many effective ways to carry out an observation and feedback process, but all procedures include a substantial amount of team interaction. The "DO IT" method involves work teams meeting on a regular basis to complete these steps:

  • Define critical safe and at-risk work behaviors to observe;

  • Observe each other working and complete a critical behavior checklist developed by the team;

  • Intervene using procedures selected and designed by the team to motivate more safe behavior or less at-risk behavior;

  • Test or evaluate the results of the intervention to determine whether another intervention is needed or whether the team has influenced enough behavioral improvement to warrant some additions to their critical behavior checklist.

Some observation and feedback procedures involve a two-person team. One employee, the coach, observes the work behaviors of another employee -- with his or her permission. Then the coach gives feedback on both the safe and at-risk behavior observed. The two individuals discuss what could be done to make the task safer in terms of behavioral adjustment or environmental change.

Ideally, every employee in a plant who could be injured as a result of their work-related behavior should participate on an observation and feedback team, if only as a person willing to be observed. All employees should receive some sort of systematic behavior-based feedback regarding their work practices.

Ergonomics team

This team's mission and methods are similar to the observation and feedback team, but it has special education and training in ergonomic principles. Team members systematically audit workstations to evaluate relationships between work behaviors and the environmental setting. Then, potential solutions to ergonomic challenges are discussed, and particular corrective action plans are devised and submitted for approval. The adjustment could be a modification of the environment, a process for training or motivating behavior change, or a combination of both an environment and behavior change.

Every observation and feedback team can look for mismatches between work practices and environmental conditions, and submit recommendations to the ergonomics team. This prompts the ergonomics team to do a careful observation and evaluation of the setting to determine if a specific action plan is needed.

Incident analysis team

There are advantages to making incident analysis a team effort. A comprehensive evaluation of 'near-miss' reports, occurrences of property damage, and personal injuries can benefit from the input of a variety of individuals, including a safety director, an ergonomics specialist, and individuals with considerable experience in the work area where the incident occurred.

It's useful to have two or three regular members of the incident analysis team, and to add two or three additional members depending upon the circumstances of the incident. This combination gives you incident-relevant expertise and plant-wide representation and involvement. The experience of serving on an incident analysis team not only raises individual awareness of safety and health issues, it also alerts team members to specific preventive measures.

Celebration team

Too often safety celebrations are planned by one person or a few managers who make a number of presumptions when deciding the particulars of the special event. Consider the advantages of having a team of line workers plan a safety celebration. This team will need a directive with some guidelines and budget restrictions, but it should be empowered to plan the particulars of the celebration.

Team members will naturally solicit ideas from their coworkers, and the result will be an event more likely to please the people who deserve the group reward. The perception of personal control leads to more involvement. And with more involvement comes more commitment, and then more involvement, and so on.

Incentives/rewards team

In order for a safety incentive program to motivate the kinds of activities that can prevent workplace injuries, it needs to be behavior-based. Many decisions need to be made when developing a behavior-based incentive program, and the best answers to questions about design and administration depend on your work culture. This team need adequate representation from the various components of your culture to come up with those answers. Plus, the planning and execution of an effective safety incentive program takes considerable time and effort, needing the multiple talents and contributions only a team can offer.

Preventive action team

You should consider using a preventive action team to evaluate reports of rule/policy violations and decide on corrective action. With membership elected and representative of the entire workforce, this team decides whether an individual should be punished for an infraction, and chooses the particular penalty.

Given that line workers typically have the most direct influence over their peers, and that top-down safety discipline usually decreases voluntary involvement in desirable safety processes, the use of this type of team should at least seem logical and intuitively appealing. If a council of people representative of the entire work culture serves the fact-finding and corrective-action functions of safety 'discipline,' employee involvement is increased rather than decreased by a discipline system.

Final words

These seven teams are not comprehensive. I'm sure you can think of other organizational teams that can use and/or deliver methods or procedures developed from the basic principles of behavior-based safety. All seven teams discussed here are not needed, but at least the first two are essential. An employee-driven steering team for behavior-based safety is crucial for promoting increased employee involvement and commitment in a company's safety initiative. And since behavior-based observation and feedback is necessary to improve safety-related behaviors, some type of teamwork is necessary. You'll get much more mileage from an observation and feedback process if work groups organize in teams to review results, make recommendations, and develop customized interventions to improve safety-related behavior. I hope one lesson is coming through loud and clear: We need teams and teamwork to get the best out of behavior-based safety.