Managing environmental health and safety (EHS) is always concerned with mitigating risk, preventing potential hazards and incidents, and improving the safety culture of the organization. All of these goals can be achieved through behavior-based safety (BBS), which is an effective tool.
Through the observation and analysis of employees’ behavior while they work, BBS is a method for avoiding human error and improving workplace safety. Let's take a look at some of the key concepts of BBS, along with some actions EHS managers and professionals can take to implement the concepts in their organizations.
To dispel a common misconception about behavior-based safety, let us first emphasize one point: Behavior-based safety isn't about blaming employees for safety incidents. It is about positively reinforcing safe behaviors and providing feedback when risky behaviors occur.
The basics of BBS
As a result of a series of safe behaviors, behavioral safety is the guiding principle that helps employees perform their jobs safely. The term "behavior" refers to any actions you are able to observe someone performing, and it includes actions that are visible only (i.e., things that cannot be seen, such as attitudes or thoughts). Through BBS, at-risk behavior on the job is determined and steps taken to change at-risk behavior into safe behavior are determined.
The BBS method uses materials and activities. In a behavioral safety framework, all of these tools can be effectively utilized, such as safety signs, training, safety rules and policies, and safety meetings. In addition to observing behavior to determine whether it is appropriate or unsafe, it also reinforces safe behavior and changes unsafe behavior by providing positive or corrective feedback on performance.
BBS Starts with Selecting and Observing Desired Safe Behaviors
When putting BBS into action within the workplace, it’s imperative that EHS managers properly select and observe employee behavior. Behaviors to be observed include:
Something over which an employee has control, and
Describe positively (i.e., what should be done, not what shouldn’t be done).
A behavior-based safety observation must be objective, that is, based on what you actually observe the employee doing, rather than on opinions or interpretations.
Consider this activity as an example of putting observations into action. It is recommended that employees select a few safe behaviors (no more than five at one time) and compile them into a checklist they carry with them during the workday to spot-check for the selected safe behaviors. The employee places a check in the “safe” column if he observes that a coworker is performing a behavior on the checklist safely. When a coworker is observed acting unsafely, the employee places a check in the “unsafe” column. EHS professionals can use this tool to determine the prevalence of safe versus unsafe behavior on the job, and then provide positive feedback to employees exhibiting safe behavior, or take corrective and preventive measures against employees who exhibit riskier behaviors.
Positive Feedback Is Essential to BBS
When you provide employees with feedback about safe behavior, be specific about what you observed. Verbal feedback is an effective tool for promoting safe behavior.
It would be appropriate to say, for example, "Thank you for driving slowly around that corner and blaring the horn to warn others." Do not use generalizations such as, "Thank you for driving the forklift carefully." Provide feedback on performance immediately following or as soon as possible following the behavior.
Also, be sure to identify the person or group to whom you’re giving feedback by name. For example, “John, thanks for mopping up that spilled water. You just prevented someone from slipping and falling and getting injured.” Avoid saying things like, “Thanks, everyone, for keeping the floor clean.”
One thing to avoid in your communication: Don’t use the words “but” or “however” when giving positive feedback, since these qualifiers diminish the effect of the positive message. For example, if you say, “Good to see you wearing safety glasses, Sally, but…” Sally may only hear the part after the “but”—not the positive reinforcement that preceded it.
Correct observed risky behaviors with feedback
The BBS is emphatically not about blaming employees, but you must never ignore unsafe behavior--it might lead to an accident, injury, or possibly death. When you observe an employee engaging in unsafe behavior, you must provide appropriate feedback.
Corrective feedback is provided to employees to provide information on their errors as well as to provide suggestions for improvement. In contrast to simply scolding employees (which may result in retaliation), this method emphasizes a specific behavior and promotes safer habits in the future.
When giving corrective feedback, remember:
Be specific and focus on the correct behavior only—don’t discuss other behaviors.
Be objective and talk about the behavior, not the person.
Describe safe behavior, and make sure employees understand why this behavior is imperative to their safety.
Positive behaviors, Positive Culture
A BBS can help identify both safe and unsafe behaviors so that incidents can be prevented. It also contributes to improving the overall safety culture of a company. In addition to making safety a core part of a company's values, organizations should ensure that communication is frequent, consistent, and clear about safety issues such as behavior. This is an integral part of their overall culture as well.
By adopting a more mindful approach to behavior, EHS managers, employees and upper management can contribute to creating a culture where safety is a top priority. By using behavior-based safety in conjunction with effective tracking and analytical tools, you can ensure that employees are not only performing their tasks, but are also actively promoting health and safety while doing so.