In the past ten years, the "behavioral approach" has been considered innovative and in many companies has made significant headway in improving safety. However, while the process of pinpointing desired behaviors and observing/measuring them has been a strong movement, the "love affair" is waning.

Although most statistics show that between 85 percent to 95 percent of all injuries are caused by unsafe behaviors, the term Behavioral-Based Safety has encountered skeptics and critics. Most of the criticism centers around the perception of "blaming the workforce," "ignoring physical/conditional causes" and "letting management off the hook." We see a re-emergence of the "human error" theories and development of programs centered on this concept.

Efforts are being made to avoid the word "behavior." It appears, in part, to be a matter of semantics. But, foremost, there is a misunderstanding of what a true behavior-based process is.

Behave yourself!

Surveys reveal that a significant number of workers perceive behavioral approaches as an "observation/ feedback" system only. It is also believed by some to be a substitute for environmental and engineering fixes. Talking about behaviors sometimes puts people on the defensive…the parental throwback "BEHAVE YOURSELF!" Uppermost is the belief that only the "worker-bees" are being measured and management/supervision are out of the picture. Without management and supervision being "in the pot," any process will fail.

Another dangerous perception is that behavioral safety is a magical cure and results will happen quickly. A behavioral-based process should deal with culture, and culture does not change overnight…it did not develop overnight.

Setting the example

Cultural change…where does it begin? It begins with leadership and organizational behaviors (candor, open communications, accountability, respect and sharing). Not to be left out are supervisors’ behaviors and actions — "setting the example." Workers’ behaviors often mirror those of managers and supervisors. A "new safety culture" involves all employees taking full responsibility for their own safety and that of others. To affect a cultural change, the behaviors of all must change: leadership, organizational and workforce. All must be educated in what it takes to make a safe work environment. The workplace environment is different and unique for every facility regardless of the similarity of the product being produced or service generated. All employees must know the safe conditions and specific safe behaviors required in each work area and practice them daily. In addition, management/supervision must trust and involve hourly employees to help identify and define safe behaviors in their work areas and integrate them with the compliance/technical issues.

Safe behaviors/actions need to be measured on a daily basis, just as productivity and quality are. Feedback through observations (developed and made by ALL) provides the positive and corrective influence. Safe behaviors are recognized and desired behaviors communicated. Unsafe practices are stopped on the spot.

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement/recognition is a key to changing your safety culture. Industries have relied on compliance and discipline to monitor and shape their safety culture. These are essential, but to achieve safety excellence and more than minimal performance, recognition and reinforcement of the positive are needed. It is not a "love-fest" but an opportunity to improve morale and gain full participation. Positive reinforcement/recognition works in concert with safety disciplinary policies already in place.

The culture and the safety process need to be measured periodically. Surveys can reveal the true perception of the culture as it exists. A new safety culture will become very apparent to all as they see the changes over time and the results of follow-up surveys changing for the better — most significantly in the areas of trust, environment and safe behaviors practiced.

Shift is not easy

With so much progress made in the safety movement and with behavior-based processes, we must be vigilant not to abandon something that makes a difference because of misunderstanding and improper implementation. Shifting from a reactive, outcome process to a proactive measurement process is not easy. Implementing a behavioral process is a significant undertaking, but one well worth it when done right.

Employee involvement is the center of a behavioral-based process. Why? Hourly employees are closest to the things that make them safe and unsafe. Employees have a vested interest in having an effective safety process. They know their jobs and the area they work in better than anyone. They do the work tasks that either present a hazard or those that protect them. Studies show that hourly workers can be very effective and valuable problem-solvers. Solutions can often be developed before engineering gets involved. Research also shows that if people have input to a process or program they are more likely to support it.

A happy marriage

What is the future? The future is a concentrated effort to marry the technical/compliance with the human/behavioral factors in the work environment and move from trying to divorce the two. We need to rebuild trust and re-educate to form a solid "safety marriage" that procreates better/safer work environments and benefits everyone. We need commitment of time and support by all to make the marriage work.

Most importantly, let’s not discard a process that measures safety on a daily basis like productivity and quality. Let’s fully understand it and continually make improvements.

Missing Links

Some of the missing links in both the traditional and behavioral approaches to safety are:

1) Lack of full utilization of the most valuable resources: the entire facility population.
2) A balance between compliance (reprimanding) and safe performance reinforcement.
3) Failure to focus on "lead by example" behaviors.
4) Systematic, organized methods of defining, measuring and communicating safe practices/behaviors and conditions designed for individual facilities and specific job activities.
5) In conjunction with No. 4, attempting to use generic checklists in all facilities. Each facility is unique and has its own dynamics.
6) Lack of encouraging and positively reinforcing the reporting of near misses, and, as a total plant team, developing solutions to prevent accidents.
7) Dispelling the perception that the "B" in behavior stands for blaming the workers and that "compliance" always stands for punishment.
8) Taking the time required to implement and sustain "the process."
9) Attempting to introduce and implement a behavioral-based process totally in-house when trust is sorely in need of rebuilding.