The Pros and Cons of Behavior Based Safety

Hewitt RobertsBehavior based safety, Certainty software, Inspection Software, Safety inspection, Safety management, Safety observation, UncategorizedLeave a Comment

The corporate world is full of business improvement programs. Sometimes their adoption is a must to survive in a competitive industry or market, other times they are a passing phase better avoided. In this post we look at the pros and cons and behavior based safety (BBS).


What is a behavior-based safety and a behavior-based safety program

Before jumping into pros and cons of BBS, let’s first start with what behavior based safety and a behavior based safety program (BBS) are.

Behavior based safety (BBS) is a scientific approach to understanding and altering human behavior in the workplace to improve safety performance. Underlying this approach is the tenet that human behavior, actions and interactions are the root cause of many (possibly as much at 80%) of safety issues and workplace accidents, injuries and incidents.

At the heart of behavior-based safety process is the safety observation. As the foundation of improved safety is safety leaders / mentors observing employee behavior, identifying unsafe behaviors – such as dangerous process shortcuts or not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) – and through real-time employee engagement with co-workers, provide recommendations and positive reinforcement aimed at interventions and altering critical behavior before accidents or incident occurs.

A behavior based safety program is a key component of any wider EHS management or safety management system that records safety observations, collates observation data to provide safety metrics and trends to influence decision-making and direct safety and EHS initiatives, priorities and programs to improve overall safety (and behavioral safety) in the workplace.

If implemented correctly – with sufficient leadership commitment, a BBS program will foster a safety culture in a company and improve the morale, productivity and workplace safety.

However, as is the case with all enterprise -level initiatives, there are both pros and cons to be considered – BBS is no different.

The pros and cons to consider for the successful implementation of a BBS program:

Con: Observations can get lost in the weeds. Management can become too focused on observations, thinking that a large amount of worker monitoring is the key. The truth is that observations are only a piece of the puzzle – what’s more important is how this data is used to change the safety behavior of a company.

Con: BBS takes attention away from technical and engineering improvements to safety. This is only if management thinks a behavior based approach to safety is all that they need. In truth, a BBS program is best paired with a variety of safety initiatives.

Con: These programs make it very easy for management to “blame the worker”. Because these programs focus on the behaviors of workers, it’s an easy place for management to place the blame. A good safety leader would recognize that their employee’s decisions are based on the training, incentives, and environment that management may (or may not) have provided.

Pro: BBS is an opportunity to create a positively reinforced safety program. A common mistake of safety professionals is to focus only on correcting unsafe behaviors, assuming that’s the only approach to eliminating workplace accidents. BBS programs are intended to also identify safe behaviors, reward those doing them and promote exemplary behavior.

Pro: Technology can take safety to a new level. Because BBS aims for a holistic approach to safety, it’s important to collect all your observations and data under one umbrella. This will allow safety professionals to notice unsafe trends and see the results of their safety initiatives.

Pro: Behavior Based Safety brings the workers who are most likely to have an accident to the conversation about safety. It’s an opportunity for everyone to contribute their ideas about safety. An effective BBS program has 100% employee buy-in. A shared responsibility towards safety is the only way to deliver lasting and beneficial results.

Like any business improvement program, from a ‘certifiable management system’ to a ‘change management program’, the implementation of any corporate performance improvement program will require commitment and resources; will have supporters and detractors; and will have pros and cons.

In all cases though, when it comes to programs that involve people (i.e. a BBS program), you get out what you put in and what you do with the results of your safety observations.

Success will be dependent on the commitment provided by leadership to the program and the tools employed to make the most out of the observation data collected. Given both the vast amount of observation data collected in an effective BBS program and the invaluable insights from analyzing and acting on the data collected, most successful BBS programs take advantage of web technology to facilitate mobile observation data collection and reporting. From easily identifying and avoiding risky behaviors in the work environment to knowing where to congratulate positive behaviors, BBS software is readily available and undoubtedly a key component of any successful BBS program.

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