Tag Archives: behavior based safety

Right Tool for the Job

I see lots of articles on LinkedIn and various blogs about how some methods used in workplace safety management are of no value, or worse, these tools are straight from Hell itself. I’ve read that things such as BBS (Behavior Based Safety), measuring safety performance, or computer based training (CBT/WBT) are not to be used by the right-thinking safety professional. Some safety professionals are saying that these methods are “snake oil” and those that promote the use of these methods are con artists. But I think we may be looking at these methods incorrectly.

My father was a carpenter and he had this massive tool box that went with him on most jobs. It was like the rolling, multi-drawer metal toolboxes you might see today at an auto repair shop, except his was made of wood and he built it himself. He had literally hundreds of tools in the drawers of that toolbox, and each had specific functions. I can’t imagine one of his co-workers saying to him “I don’t know why you keep that #3 Phillips screwdriver in your toolbox; it doesn’t work on a #2 Phillips screw”, or “Why do you have that cross-cut saw? It can’t be used in cutting out a pattern”. It’s really no different when we talk about the various methods, or tools, used in workplace safety management. BBS, CBT, measuring safety performance…these are all just tools that are available. And they don’t work when used for the wrong job.

For example, trying to implement BBS in a place where the organizational culture is one of fear and mistrust would not be effective: in fact, it could be quite harmful to the organization. Additionally, thinking that BBS is the ONLY method to use for safety performance improvement could also be harmful to the organization. BBS is a tool, but it does not focus on identifying and correcting hazards, whereas another tool such as Safety Management Systems do focus on hazards. BBS could be used as a tool in providing an opportunity to perform tasks safely, and then coach individuals on what was observed and discuss decision making in job performance. But if BBS is used to “catch” people or to place blame, individuals involved might be perceived as “safety cops”, not something that is seen in a positive light in most organizations. BBS is just a tool that has correct and incorrect uses.

Another error we might make is measuring safety performance by just looking at injury numbers; this does not tell you what is and is not working in your safety system. Proper use of safety metrics can drive performance toward more efficient use of resources, improved compliance and profitability, and improved general health and well-being of an organization and its workers. But metrics in themselves will not achieve excellence. They do, however, provide a “window” through which management can see the effectiveness of their systems. Injury rates, a lagging indicator, are a measure of our failure, but we can use leading indicators to focus on future safety performance, not the past. Some examples of leading indicators include:
• Perception surveys
• Findings from Safety Audits/Inspections
• Behavior Observation Data
• Number of Job Hazard Analysis (JHAs) performed
• Percent of corrective actions completed
• Number of Lock-out/Tag-out procedures reviewed each year
• Percentage of purchasing contracts that include safety requirements.
• Average time to act on safety suggestions.
• Percentage of funds allocated for safety suggestions

Safety performance measurement is just a tool that has correct and incorrect uses.

Some authors and safety professionals would have you believe that using CBT for safety training will damage your organization’s safety culture. When it comes to training our employees, we need to realize that using CBT as the ONLY delivery method for all of our training will not result in an effective transfer of knowledge and skills. But to use a blanket statement like “CBT is Bad For Your Safety Culture” does a great disservice to a tremendous learning tool and may steer employers away from something that can improve their safety culture, not destroy it. CBT was never meant to replace all classroom training. Some subjects require a significant amount of hands-on training and need to be delivered via classroom, lab, or on-the-job training. But this does not mean that CBT can’t be effectively used to cover some of the details that would normally be covered in classroom lecture format. CBT is just a tool that has correct and incorrect uses.

This was a discussion of just a few of the many safety improvement tools, each that can be used correctly or incorrectly. As safety professionals, we have a variety of tools available to us today to help ensure the safest workplace possible. Why limit ourselves by refusing to keep our toolbox full of these tools? It all boils down to using what works. No one system, process, or theory has all of the answers. The key is in selecting the right tool for the job.

If you would like to learn more about some of the many tools we have to choose from, please check out some of my live and recorded audio conferences:

Behavior Based Safety: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How It Can Help Your Organization: http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1014275&RID=1011610

How to Use and Understand Safety Metrics: http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1014502&RID=1011610

How to Develop and Conduct Safety Training: http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1015035&RID=1011610

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What Behavior Based Safety (BBS) Is And What It Is Not.

BBS theory has been around for many decades, but in the past few years it has become increasingly popular among some businesses and with many safety professionals. The phrase Behavior-Based Safety in its strictest sense refers to the use of applied behavior analysis methods to achieve continuous improvement in safety performance. Behavior Analysis is promoted as the scientific study of behavior, with the primary objective being the discovery of principles and laws that govern behavior. I would say, though, that to be truly effective this must include all behaviors, not just those of the front-line worker.

Many proponents of BBS Claim it To Be:

  • An excellent tool for collecting data on quality of a company’s safety culture.
  • A scientific way to understand why people behave the way they do when it comes to safety.
  • When properly applied, an effective next step towards creating a pro-active safety culture where loss prevention is a core value.
  • Conceptually easy to understand but often hard to implement and sustain.

…But Claim It Is Not:

  • Only about observation and feedback.
  • Concerned only about the behaviors of line employees.
  • A substitution for traditional risk management techniques.
  • About cheating, manipulating people, and aversive control.
  • A focus on incident rates without a focus on behavior.
  • A process that doesn’t need employee involvement.

Yet some safety professionals with which I have communicated claim BBS is the only method to use in safety management and injury reduction. Others I have talked with claim that BBS is too flawed to be useful. BBS proponents often state that conditions do not cause accidents, behavior does. In fact, some BBS proponents state that more than 85% of accidents are the result of unsafe acts. This belief seems to stem from Herbert Heinrich’s theories developed in the 1930’s. Personally, I have not found any solid evidence of Heinrich’s “statistics”, yet time and again I see this so-called “fact” used to support the position on BBS. So, the Heinrich myth lives on. But does this mean there is no value to some concepts of Behavior Based Safety? No, I think there is value in BBS when properly combined with other methods.

BBS says safety is about people, and behavior is the challenge. But BBS does not focus on identifying and correcting hazards and is often seen as “carrot and stick”. Critics claim BBS emphasizes the worker without taking the system into account. Another approach to consider is that of using a Safety Management System (SMS) . The SMS uses planning, risk identification, analysis, operational control, directives and processes, and continual improvement. Safety Management Systems focus on hazards (which I believe to be the true source of injuries) and I would suggest that removing or reducing the risk of injury can be more successful than relying solely on BBS.

It’s important to note that an effective SMS is not about regulations or reprimands: it is about systems and using what works for the given situation. It’s also important to realize that there are pros and cons to both SMS and BBS methodologies. Safety management systems will always be flawed to some degree, as you can’t plan and control for every hazard. And systems can be inflexible while behavioral approaches may be more adaptive. However, behavior is hard to understand and change, while hazard identification and correction can be implemented easily in most situations.

Accidents are complex and a concentration on behavior alone can detract from finding other causes. But a focus on systems alone might overlook some behavioral issues; there are things in BBS that may be useful. So what are we to do? We need to understand that there are many causes to accidents other than just behavior. There may be environmental conditions, physical hazards, management & systems, equipment, etc., to consider as causes.

It’s not unusual for an organization to see these two approaches as an “either-or” proposition. While the strong proponents of each (BBS and SMS) may see them as diametrically opposed, this may not necessarily be true. But there is no “canned” solution; each organization should select the components of various theories and systems that work for them.

What Really Works In Keeping The Workplace Safe?
1. Controlling risks at their source.
2. Vigorous enforcement of the law.
3. Treating people with dignity and respect.
4. Using BBS and Safety Management Systems (SMS) together.

A combination of safety management systems and behavior-nurturing systems might better ensure a higher probability of working safely. BBS and SMS can and do work together. But BBS in its entirety and on its own might cause more harm than good, as it has a tendency to cause a level of distrust between management and front-line workers. In my opinion, bringing BBS into a culture where there is no trust can only lead to disaster.

So I would suggest that using caution with behavioral theories is appropriate. We are always learning new things about human psychology, and what we thought was true about human behavior a few years ago may not be true today. Bear in mind also that employees don’t like being “psychoanalyzed” and many unions are strongly opposed to BBS in any form. There is clear value in injury reduction through removing or controlling hazards (conditions). While behavioral modification might work, it can be complex and involved, and often is met with tremendous resistance. It all boils down to using what works. No one system, process, or theory has all of the answers.

There is no doubt this is a complex, controversial, and even divisive subject. To learn more about combining BBS and Safety Management Systems, join me on January 6, 2015 for my next audio conference on this subject. “Behavior Based Safety: What Works, What Doesn’t, And How It Can Help Your Organization” http://www.theindustrycalendar.com/showWCDetails.asp?TCID=1014275&RID=1011610

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