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What Is Behavior-Based Safety?

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on September 28, 2018 at 10:38 AM

Are you using behavior-based safety to strengthen your EHS department?

If not, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to connect with your team and help them become more involved in workplace safety.

Let’s take a look at what behavior-based safety is and why it’s important in today’s workplace.

What Is Behavior-Based Safety?

Behavior-based safety (BBS) was initially developed out of the idea that safety is a choice or series of choices. Ultimately, safety results from the decisions made by workers regarding detecting or preventing hazards and incidents, safety training, taking precautions while performing tasks, and the level of safety awareness they have of external factors that could put them in jeopardy.

If the proper precautions are taken and safety rules are followed, then safety becomes a natural byproduct. This idea has been around for decades, but today we know that there’s a lot more to it.

BBS was once thought to be the end-all safety program among managers, but now we know that’s not the case. Rather than being a Swiss army knife of safety programs, it’s simply one piece of the puzzle, albeit a critical one that leaves any safety program incomplete without it.

Common Misconceptions About BBS

Despite its long-standing existence in organizations, there are still many misconceptions surrounding what BBS is, how it’s best executed, and what it can achieve.

Blame the Employee

Many companies have shifted away from the BBS model because of its mentality on blaming employees when incidents occur. Employees are not always the reason incidents occur, but many managers believe that BBS tends to tilt the scales in favor of this idea. We know that even diligent safety behavior isn’t always enough to mitigate incidents, but that isn’t reason enough to completely detach from BBS practices.

Safety Behaviors Should Be Inherent

Some experts believe that BBS assumes that employees know which behaviors they should be exhibiting at all times. This approach is largely a failed one because even the best employees still need training and reminding to keep safety top of mind. Also, as new procedures, machines, and other components are introduced into the workplace, safety behaviors are almost guaranteed to change, too.

How to Implement Behavior-Based Safety in Your Organization

BBS came at a time when there wasn’t much new to talk about in safety, which is why so many companies were willing to jump on the bandwagon. They opted for an off the shelf BBS program and tried to run with it, only to be met with complexities and inconsistencies that guaranteed the program’s demise.

It’s unfortunate that BBS still carries this scarlet letter of ineffectiveness, but when done correctly, BBS can add value to any organization.

Here’s how you can use behavior-based safety to your company’s advantage:

Don’t Make it Your Only Focus

One of the reasons BBS was doomed from the start was because companies relied on BBS for their entire safety initiative. They believed every accident could be prevented by employee behavior. However, when coupled with other safety initiatives, BBS can play a huge supporting role in your overall program. Employees do have an important part in mitigating risk and that shouldn’t be downplayed in the least.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Historically, BBS has relied on negative reinforcement to ensure employees exhibit the appropriate behaviors. But don’t negate the power of positive reinforcement. Call out employees who are doing their part in maintaining a safe work environment. This is especially helpful in allowing employees to replace unsafe work habits with safe ones.

Hold All Employees Accountable

Hourly employees shouldn’t bear the brunt of BBS. Salaried team members and company leaders must also uphold any changes to ensure consistency and long-lasting results across the board. Having a way to measure the results of change for hourly, salaried, and supervisory employees can ensure the program remains on the right track.

Behavior-Based Safety Can Be Effective

While it doesn’t have the best reputation, you should know that employing a BBS approach can be effective. It all depends on how you fit it into your current EHS ecosystem and how you hold your employees accountable.

For more ways on how to strengthen your safety organization, explore our blog resources.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Incident Management, Safety Management

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