Behaviour Based Safety Culture: The Most Successful Workplace Safety Improvement Program

Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) programs address safety culture barriers with effective solutions for changing safety culture and securing a positive safety behaviour change

Behaviour Based Safety passively and positively changes existing unsafe workplace behaviours by identifying and reinforcing the use of the right behaviours that protect people in real-world safety problems

In workplaces that want high safety performance, behaviour based safety programs, when properly implemented, significantly improve personal safe performance and greatly reduce workplace injury and illness

Behavioral Observation Programs using behavior based safety management reduce safety incidents by bringing beneficial workforce safety behavior change

Properly applied, behaviour based safety is a highly effective next step towards creating a truly pro-active safety culture in your company where risk elimination and loss prevention are core values.

Behaviour based safety is a scientific way to change peoples’ risk behaviors by understanding why they act the way they do when it comes to their personal safety. Interventions are then designed and installed into their work activities that eliminate high risk behaviors, or change them to least risk behaviors.

Behaviour Based Approach in Modern Workplace Safety

We know from research published by the USA National Safety Council that behaviour based safety is the most successful safety intervention strategy now available, with clearly observable safety incident reductions in 60% of applications, well ahead of any other safety intervention strategy in use, such as ergonomic changes (52%), engineering changes (29%), root cause problems solving (20%), and management audits (17%).

Behaviour based safety is not a stand-alone solution to creating safety culture change in your company, there is still great value in the safety hierarchy and a safety management systems, but instilling behaviour based safety practices is a vital part of building a successful and lasting safety culture.

It is wrong to aim for behaviour based safety (BBS) cultural change straight away. A behaviour based safety culture is designed and created, it is not a desperate measure to be undertaken with the intent to get rapid workplace safety culture change. Generally, there are initiatives that precede permanent BBS culture change that begin a behavior based safety program, such as an audit to gauge the effectiveness of your existing safety management system and doing worker surveys, along with promotions that have a visual impact, like advertising safety change initiatives, and proactive senior management presentations. It is LRS Safety Consultants’ view gained from long experience with behavior based safety programs, that BBS cannot just be a singular effort as the last resort.

Core Elements in Successful BBS Programs

Powerful behaviour based safety cultures always have two core elements – 1) proactive safety and risk prevention are personal values, and 2) people are held accountable for their personal safety behaviours.

Measurement of actual safety behaviour is another core element for behavior based safety culture change. Because peoples’ safety behavior can be seen it can be counted. Driving a truck over the posted speed limit can be tallied. How many times they completely stop at a stop sign is observable. When people in a workshop are not wearing safety glasses they can be seen. You can spot if a person does not perform a repetitious job safely as recommended on a safe job procedure. How many times forklift operators enter a semi-trailer without confirming the trailer wheels are chocked or the trailer is restrained are observable behaviors.

Because safety behaviour is both observable and measurable you can manage the behavior and change it to produce a more successful result. If you were a worker’s supervisor and saw them driving a forklift over the speed limit you could manage that at-risk behavior in a couple of ways. You might use negative reinforcement and warn them by saying, “You were over the speed limit three times. If I see you above the speed limit again I’ll write you a warning and put it on your record.” Or you could apply positive reinforcement and say “If you stay below or at the speed limit for the rest of the day I’ll let you clock-out and go home 15 minutes early.”

An Approach to Building a New Behaviour Based Safety Culture

If you manage successful safety behaviours well enough, your people start to perform them successfully. If they perform their work using low risk behaviours for long enough (and you provide positive reinforcement to encourage that safety behavior change) their attitude to doing a work task safely begins to permanently change. They adopt the safer behaviours and make them safety habits. How carefully you manage their safety behaviors determines if that attitude transforms quickly or slowly. By using positive reinforcement techniques you are most likely to see rapid change. If you mostly use negative reinforcement and punishment you’ll probably see only a slow change in attitude, and perhaps negligible safety behaviour change.

You start a behavior based safety cultural change in your organisation by understanding the requirements needed to get successful BBS happening in your workplace, and securing top management help to implement them properly. You’ll need to tailor a specific plan for behavior based safety to be introduced into your operation. Every workplace is a unique mix of people, equipment, practices and processes continually interacting, and this uniqueness needs to be factored into your behavior based safety culture change plans. You may need specialist behaviour based safety consultants to survey and map your operation in order to design the right BBS program for you. A good BBS system will require a half-day training course for all participants, followed by a lot of practical training of the people in the workplace. All managers and supervisors at all levels will also require training in BBS and its techniques.

In a strong behavior based safety system, redesigned safe work procedures containing the right safety behaviors are adopted and used to re-teach people the no-risk and low-risk actions to do. It is common to see four steps used in a behavior based safety program to influence the specific behaviors needed to complete work correctly in a safe manner.

  1. Define high risks in the job: This involves describing work behaviors that may lead to the most common/serious injuries when doing a job.
  2. Observe what is actually done: Identify the work safety behaviors that need to change to reduce the risk of a hazard or the cause of injury.
  3. Introduce the right safety behaviours: Apply sure measures to prevent occurrence of unsafe behavior. This involves specifying what the best low-risk behavior to use is, then communicating the necessary changes and training the people doing the work.
  4. Prove and Improve: Lastly you measure and confirm new safety behaviours are done and decide if the replacement behaviour needs refining or if there are safer alternatives to use.

It’s a process to do safety behaviour data collection, work procedure redesign to include safe work behaviours, introducing and implementing the safer ways of working in your operation, and finally proving the success of your new behavior based safety system of work. The process is dynamic and plans change as more is learned and understood. The first proposed design may not be anything like the final working model put into use. Designing behaviour based safety programs needs to consider how the change process will be rolled out, what type of training is to be done, who is to collect the safety behavior data, how to act on the data collected, how to display the data, as well as many other variable factors.

Ultimately the safety culture you want to create is one where everyone feels confident working in risk-free, safe ways that have become a part of their ‘business as usual’ safety attitude. You want your people to be comfortable identifying at-risk behavior and bringing it to attention in ways that are proactive and non-judgmental to create a safer workplace for all.

When the safety improvement initiatives chosen, whether involving engineering and administrative control changes, changes to the safety management system, or behavioral based safety interventions, are successful, you will see observable, measurable behavior change in the workplace and in your safety statistics. The payback from a successful BBS culture change program includes:

  • Far greater percentage of safe behaviours in every job and department.
  • Rapidly decrease in the percentage of at-risk behaviors.
  • More people reporting near misses and ‘near hits’ as they realize what is at-risk safety behavior and they want better outcomes.
  • Scheduled BBS observations are done and data is collected, with greater confidence in assessing the true state of workplace safety.
  • People making observations become more comfortable doing the inspections, and more people are willing to do them.
  • As the use of safe work behaviours increase the accident frequency and severity rates decrease.
  • People become increasingly responsible and accountable for their safety behaviors—both formally or informally they accept feedback more openly and honestly. They come to understand the BBS program is not about appointing fault or blame, rather it’s about improving the workplace safety system and safety culture.

To see a successful behavior based safety culture as part of your organization’s workplace safety future, learn how to make it become real sooner rather than later.

How does Behavioural Based Safety work?

When you want to improve safe practices in a certain workplace, you first specify, as behaviourally as possible, the correct and proper practices. For example, detailing correct hoist operation or lifting behaviour is clearly defined, explained in a document, and then practiced by people in the workplace exactly as is defined.

Alternately, you may specify the beneficial outcomes that will be achieved when safe work practices are performed. For example, a workplace free of water spill hazards that could cause an employee to slip and fall would be a far safer place in which to work. This good mental image of proper safety behaviour is promoted and reinforced as the correct practice to be using in the workplace.

The process of specifying these criteria for good performance, results in a measuring instrument that can be used to periodically sample safety performance in the workplace and measure human performance. Once the BBS programs were instigated, the OHS performance results are collected for safety trend analysis.

  1. Measure safety performance: Using the criteria for safe workplace performance, you periodically sample and measure safety performance against those criteria. These measurements are recorded and become part of a data base; a cumulative log of performance for each workplace.
  2. Shape safe performance through feedback and other consequences: Behavioural research on learning teaches us powerful lessons about how to teach and build performance improvement. First among these lessons is the power of consequences. Consequences shape performance. One very powerful consequence is feedback on workplace performance. Properly designed and used, performance feedback will produce learning and positive performance changes – often very dramatically.

Why all the interest in behavioural based safety?

The application of behavioural research to the solution of human problems and workers’ injuries is building and demonstrating the first effective and reliable technology of workplace behaviour change in human history.

No other field of psychology or the behavioural sciences has been able to successfully do this. In workplaces with troublesome rates of unsafe performance, behavioural safety programs, properly implemented, produce significant improvements in safe performance and major reductions in workplace injuries and illnesses. Human suffering and financial costs are sharply reduced. Moreover, the costs of producing these gains in human performance are a good investment, paying for themselves many times over.

A Behaviour Based Safety project normally follows these steps:

  1. Perform a Gap Analysis and Review of current cultural and behavioural initiatives used at the workplace.
  2. Train the site’s executive management in the fundamentals of behaviour based safety.
  3. Develop and write any missing documents needed to progress and use the BBS program.
  4. Hold training seminars for all of the staff and employees.
  5. Coach site staff and personnel in using the BBS cards and the progress monitoring and measurement tools.

It’s best to do and complete the initial Gap Analysis and Review as a block of work. It is only after doing the gap analysis that the full scope of the work necessary to achieve the goals of successful BBS implementation can be fully identified and specified.

As behaviour based safety programs require workplace surveillance and questioning, there is much opportunity for people to create the wrong impression and say the wrong things when doing the observations. It is far more effective and successful in a BBS program to teach the observers, and those being observed, how to communicate effectively in multicultural workforces as part of the BBS training program, than to let people fail and immediately jeopardise the whole program when they first go out and do workplace observations.

Expected Improvements from Behaviour Based Safety Programs

The expected improvements of using behaviour based safety are the adoption by the staff and employees of safer, injury-preventing practices, a reduction of workplace injury rates, and a flow-on reduction in workers’ compensation claims and injury recovery costs.

The aim throughout a behaviour based safety program is to give your workforce a range of useful and practical ways to reduce workers injuries and to reduce human suffering, while providing a robust business case for each of the solutions employed.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this overview.

Aaron Derby
Senior Workplace Safety Consultant