Should You Be Your Own Behavioral Consultant?
According to experts in behavioral safety, you'll certainly save money this way, but time is another matter. Be prepared to spend a lot of your own time and energy learning behavioral principles, identifying critical behaviors to be observed, designing observation checklists and protocol, training employees on how to observe and give feedback, tabulating and charting observation data, and using the data to determine what workplace influences (production deadlines, poorly maintained equipment, and so on) are shaping those risky behaviors.
It's unlikely you'll want to take all this on yourself. Experts advise against it, saying teams of employees should be recruited to make plans and decisions and set goals. This gives them a sense of ownership in the process. This also means that you can plan on plenty of committee meetings and brainstorming sessions.
So one of the first questions to ask yourself if you're considering the do-it-yourself approach is: Do you have the time?
"This [behavior-based safety program] could end up being the fifth responsibility of some poor safety guy," says Terry Mathis, president of Integrated Performance Technologies.
Of equal importance is: Do you have the expertise? What qualifies you to design and implement a behavioral process? What resources are you drawing from?
Tom Krause, co-founder and CEO of Behavioral Science Technology, recalls being asked to evaluate a program that was completely inadequate. The company had not assessed its readiness for a program, and copied a behavioral inventory from another program rather than developing its own. The safety director heading this effort also cut down on employees' training time.
Selective assistanceYou might try using a consultant on an as-needed basis instead of hiring one full-time. This way, you retain ownership of the program while knowing that's it on the right track.
"Many consultants are selling pieces of behavior-based safety now," says Scott Geller, senior partner with Safety Performance Solutions. "You can call one in to assist with aspects of your program, such as observation and feedback, incentive programs, or team development."
Geller also cautions that there is more to a behavioral safety process than mere observations and feedback. You're really trying to instill new values in your organization, at least as they pertain to safety. For a lasting impact, you need to build a culture of caring, where employees depend on each other every day to stay out of harm's way, he says.
This is obviously a major undertaking. Krause says you should outline clear objectives before starting the process, and ask yourself how long you want the results to last.
Up-front workResults of a behavior-based process will depend in part on how strong your safety and health program is to begin with. You can't start talking about employee behaviors if managers and supervisors haven't already demonstrated their overall commitment to safety. General safety policies and training should be in place. Physical hazards such as dangerous machinery or chemical exposures need to be evaluated for engineering controls. OSHA compliance programs covering issues such as hazard communication, confined spaces, and lockout-tagout must be ongoing. Experts say if these building blocks aren't in place, a behavior-based effort can come off as a blame-the-employee idea.
So ask yourself: Does your facility have the foundation in place on which to build a behavioral process? Part of this also has to do with morale. What's the current state of labor-management relations? Some behavioral efforts have backfired because tensions in the workplace did not permit the kind of communication and cooperation needed to organize and implement initiatives.
Also ask: Do you have the credibility to pull this off? David Sarkus, a behavioral consultant, recalls previously working in industry as a safety manager and having to go outside for recommendations on technical issues such as indoor air quality because employees didn't listen to him.
"I had to outsource the issue to get my points across because an outsider commands respect for being the 'expert'," says Sarkus.
Considering the scope of behavioral safety programs, the number of employees involved, and the issues of time, expertise, and credibility, Mathis says there is a higher chance of failure and false starts by going the in-house route. Still, experts say the tools, the resources, exist for doing it yourself. Mathis, for example, designed his own program seven years ago while working for Coca-Cola.
Just remember Krause's admonishment: "Implementing a behavior-based process is a significant undertaking."