Designing a Behavioral Safety Program for Improved Safety Performance and a Phenomenal ROI

Hewitt Roberts Inspection management, Safety data, Safety management, Uncategorized 3 Comments

Since the inception of behavioral based safety (BBS) in the early 1970’s, many thousands of companies worldwide have implemented BBS programs as a means to reduce injuries, illnesses, human suffering and ultimately cost. However, like many other business performance improvement movements both prior to and since then, the success of BBS has had mixed results to say the least.

Although the BBS model has evolved over the years in its pursuit of improved results, for many the implementation of a behavioral based safety program has been unsuccessful and led to negative conclusions:

  • BBS is expensive and long term results are not as expected;
  • BBS doesn’t produce lasting results;
  • BBS doesn’t include and unfairly blames workers;
  • BBS focuses on the wrong things;
  • BBS leads to an under reporting of accidents; and,
  • BBS fails to prioritize the important elements of a quality safety program.

However, digging deeper and looking past the failed BBS case studies and naysayers, there have in certain circumstances been phenomenal and encouraging results:

  • The implementation of a BBS program at one of the facilities of a global automobile manufacturing company with 476 employees reduced their average lost time from 11 days/month to 1.5 days/month;
  • The BBS process at an international company with 20,000 employees produced savings of approximately $1,000 per employee in a year; and,
  • A recent study on the business case for investing in a healthy workplace found that the cost-benefit ratio for behavioral safety ranged from $1.50 to $6.15 for every dollar invested.

Why then, when there is so much potential for enormous returns and improved performance through BBS, is it that some BBS programs succeed so remarkably while other fail so badly?

Like most things that involve people, organizational behavior and corporate culture, the answer to this conundrum may be found by simply asking oneself ‘what precisely is BBS and how does it work’?

According to the Cambridge Centre for Behavioral Research:

BBS is the application of behavioral research on human performance to the problems of safety in the workplace; and,
A successful BBS program must employ the science of behavioral analytics (or the science of behavioral change) to improve workplace safety.

Consequently, a successful BBS program must (by definition) include:

Behaviorally specific desirable performance;
The measurement of safety performance; and,
The changing of behavior through feedback – usually immediate.

If we were to look back at the failed BBS case studies, my bet is that you will see a woefully common trend – that in the vast majority of cases of BBS failure, the company in question lacked one or more of these three key ingredients of success.

So, before you start and as you try to implement or improve your BBS program, ask yourself the following:

Has your company clearly defined and communicated the behaviorally specific performance that is desired?
Does your company have the means to measure (e.g. the data necessary to analyze and report) ongoing safety performance?
Does your company have the means (including organizational culture, management systems & commitment) to provide meaningful, relevant and immediate feedback about behavior and performance that must change?

If you can answer yes to ALL three of these questions, then there is no reason whatsoever that your company can’t also implement a successful BBS program and like many others also produce significant improvements in safety performance while simultaneously reducing workplace injury and illness from a BBS program that pays for itself many times over in the years to come.

Comments 3

  1. Our company is an engineering and construction firm, with an average of 5,000 employees. We instituted a BBS program 6 years ago. We experienced some “pains” molding a program for a transient projects.
    But, it has worked. Historical data shows that on projects where we have robust participation, with good feedback, our incident numbers decrease. Since the institution of our program, we have experienced ONE days away case in appx. 70 million workhours. Although, BBS is not a “silver bullet”, I would say that it is one piece of an overall safety program that works !!

  2. BBS is all very well but in practice the human mind responds to stimulus and cause and effect. What I mean is that we set out to address safety with check sheets and performance indicators etc and measure outcomes but the messages that we often throw out there are staid, boring, over legislated but well meaning words!
    I was a Soldier in the British Army and of course we used weapons and did risky adventurous stuff as part of our work but we engaged the safety culture with relatively graphic videos about what happens if …….. and videos that were used for discussion about a topic. It wasn’t until I got into civilian life and into HAE and machinery safety where I started to see ‘death by power-point’ and KPI’s on spreadsheets.
    I think we need to get real on what motivates safety culture.

  3. BBS is an investment and many safety professionals do not communicate this to senior leadership such as CFRO, COO, and CEOs. People as think of BBS as a magic pill and will drop it after awhile because it gets stagnant. But the key issues are follow up and communicating the results of the conversations that lead to the behavior. Getting commitment to change behavior is a skill many supervisors and managers don’t comprehend and utilized.
    BBS is a critical tool for creating a foundation of trust and respect within an organization. It takes a lot of work to build the synergy but the potential rewards are enormous.

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