Safety Moment #104: Behavior-Based Safety

Behavior-Based Safety

A behavior-based safety (BBS) program aims to make permanent changes in the manner in which people work. Safety becomes a way of life that is baked into everyone's behavior. It is important to recognize, however, that a BBS program does not attempt to chance who a person is, and it most certainly is not a pop-psychology program. The program is directed just to a person's actions.

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS)

BBS helps employees identify and choose a safe behavior over an unsafe one. The process also encourages employees to work with their colleagues on improving everyone's understanding of effective and ineffective behaviors as they apply to safety. Much of the change is brought about by observing how people work, identifying at-risk behaviors and then following up, even if doing so could cause offense. (It is also important to identify behaviors that are exceptionally good and to make sure that people receive the appropriate credit.) If an unsafe behavior is observed, a non-threatening discussion should follow. Problems are seen as opportunities to improve safety performance and to share concern, coach and learn. All persons, including company workers and contractors, create and follow a mind-set of "doing everything right".

Much of the change is brought about by observing how people work and identifying at-risk behaviors, along with those actions that merit positive feedback. If an unsafe behavior is observed, a non-threatening discussion should follow. Behavior-Based Safety is part of the bigger picture to do with a company's culture. It also has a strong overlap with other programs such as "Stop Work Authority". As such it has the following features: 

  1. It creates commitment and passion.
  2. It focuses on the human side of safety by involving all employees, contract workers and managers;
  3. It defines safe and unsafe behaviors;
  4. It then encourages safe behavior and discourages unsafe or destructive behaviors;
  5. It requires management to find out why incidents are occurring and then to spend the money to fix the problems before worrying about behavior.

The most important point in the above list is the final one: management commitment to finding out why incidents are occurring and then taking action to correct the situations before worrying about employee behavior.

The first step in the BBS process is to observe employees performing their routine tasks. Both safe and unsafe behaviors are noted and recorded (with personal information omitted). The observer provides positive feedback on safe behaviors and non-threatening feedback on unsafe behaviors. Employees are provided with suggestions on correcting unsafe or at-risk behaviors. The employees are not reprimanded or disciplined for at-risk behaviors, nor are any findings reported to management. Employees are encouraged to comment on the observations; their comments are included with observations themselves, along with any suggestions for improvement.

Results from the observation records are gathered and compiled in a single data base. Reports from the data base tell management which types of at-risk behavior are most prevalent and in which locations they are taking place. Based on the insights generated during the review and analysis phase, recommendations for overall improvements can be made.

This Safety Moment is based on material in the book Plant Design and Operations.


You are welcome to use this Safety Moment in your workplace. But please read Use of Safety Moments.

Copyright © Ian Sutton. 2020. All Rights Reserved.