Once again, some of the more prolific safety bloggers on sites like LinkedIn are proclaiming that they have “the truth” about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to safety management and injury prevention. A current claim is that some safety management tools just don’t belong in the toolbox of any enlightened safety professional. The position is that slogans or BBS are such old technology that it’s akin to bloodletting; any use of tools like slogans or BBS are only for those that refuse to see the “truth” that these tools are not only outdated but dangerous. Some bloggers go so far as to refer to safety professionals that insist on using any part of “outdated” concepts like BBS as “knuckle-draggers”.
The argument is made that BBS is about blaming the majority of workplace injuries on deliberate and conscious employee behavior and that the intent of BBS is to modify and control the behavior of a population. Perhaps there are some BBS practitioners that believe this, but I don’t think this is so of the more reputable organizations that utilize BBS as one of their tools in injury reduction. In fact, I have never spoken with a BBS proponent or practitioner that did believe this to be true. Those that I have discussed this with understand that the human mind is complex. They understand that we make conscious and deliberate decisions and that we also make unconscious decisions. To throw out all of the concepts of BBS as “snake oil” and to state that there is no place for behavior modification is to say that we have mastered the workings of the human mind and have determined that understanding human behavior is of no value in safety management.
Behavior modification has been used for many years in dealing with changing our lives for the better. It’s used in therapy to help people with addictions; people that are not necessarily making a conscious and deliberate decision to be mired in substance abuse. My understanding is that there are often underlying issues that lead a person to abuse certain substances even though consciously they don’t want to do so. It is also my understanding that behavior modification can help a person better understand WHY they do what they don’t want to do. Am I saying that all safety professionals are equipped to embark on a journey of understanding human behavior and making attempts at behavior modification? No. But there are those that have been educated and trained in this field sufficiently that they can help in leading an organization to use certain concepts of BBS, including observation and feedback, in reducing injuries.
What about safety slogans? Are these entirely useless? Perhaps. I think it depends on the organization’s culture. If there is a culture of trust and respect, I believe that slogans and campaigns can help a team to focus. But in an organization where there is mistrust and fear, slogans could be not only of no value, they could do even more to increase the gap between management and front-line worker.
Only you and your organization can determine which tools are of value to you. A tool like BBS could be beneficial in an organization with a mature, trusting culture, but that same tool in another less-developed culture could be dangerous and damaging. I believe the same holds true for any of the many tools available to the safety professional. Just because another person believes these tools are outdated and don’t belong in ANY safety professional’s toolbox does not mean it is so. Just because those tools are of no value or are dangerous to THAT person does not mean they can’t have value for you and your organization. That decision about what is right for your organization is up to you; not me or any other blogger.