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.