Tag Archives: safety management systems

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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Culture or Compliance?

Culture or Compliance?

Workplace safety is about many things. The organizational or safety culture is one very important component of effective safety management. There are those that focus on human behavior, while others focus on safety management systems or employee training, and others still that concentrate on ensuring compliance with the multitude of OSHA, EPA, and other safety and environmental regulations.

So which approach is right? There is plenty of research, both old and new, that indicates human behavior is a complex issue and that it does have an effect on safety in the workplace[1].  We also know that safety management systems, properly designed and implemented, can have a positive impact on both injury and cost reduction[2]. Even employee education and training leads to workers being more skilled at their jobs and to better understand how to do those jobs in a safe manner[3]. And then there are the myriad of regulations with which employers must comply. There is even evidence to show that complying with these regulations will improve safety in the workplace[4].

If all of these means have been shown to improve safety, then why would we put all of our resources into just one or two of these methods of reducing injuries in the workplace? Perhaps we shouldn’t.

There are well-known safety professionals in our business that focus on one particular aspect of workplace safety. Is that wrong? I don’t believe so. Each works from their strengths and that benefits all of us. There are people like Shawn Galloway and Terry Mathis of ProAct Safety. They focus on how human behavior impacts safety. They’re very good at it, and I for one have learned a great deal from them. And there are people like Phil LaDuke: well, actually there is probably no one else like Phil…he’s one of a kind. I say that in a positive way. Phil writes things that many safety professionals might not want to hear or think about. Personally, I read Phil’s work because it challenges me to carefully consider why I believe what I do.  Now in these two examples, the people mentioned might have positions which appear to be diametrically opposed, but they both contribute to the safety profession and to helping others improve safety in the workplace.

So what I am trying to say is that one approach is not necessarily the best thing to ensure a safe workplace. The various safety professionals that share their expertise with us are all correct in taking the position that their approach is one that works. It takes an understanding of human behavior, it takes a good safety management system that includes hazard identification and mitigation, it requires effective training, education, and communication about safety, and it requires compliance with the regulations from OSHA, EPA, and other agencies.


[1] E. Scott Geller, Behavior Modification, Vol. 29 No. 3, May 2005.

[2]John Palassis, Education and Information Division, NIOSH, CDC, Presented at 2007 AIHCE Philadelphia, PA, June 6, 2007.

[3] Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines, OSHA 2254 1998 (Revised).


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