What Is Behavior Based Safety?

Behavior-based safety is the application of behavioral psychology to promote safe behavior in the workplace using employee involvement. It involves initially identifying practices (behaviors) critical to reducing the risk of injury. These practices and behaviors are then compiled into a checklist that employees use to collect data on safe and unsafe practices within the organization. Finally, employee teams analyze data gained from observations to develop action plans that promote continuous improvement in safety.

How effective is behavior-based safety?

Research shows that behavior-based safety processes typically result in improvements of approximately 30% within a range from 20% to 50%. (For a recent review of the empirical work, see “Does Behavior Based Safety Work?” by Beth Sulzer-Azaroff and John Austin in Professional Safety, August, 2000, pp. 19-24.) Our results are consistent with the published studies.

How is this different from DuPont’s STOP process?

DuPont’s Safety Training Observation Process (STOP) is a management-driven process that involves layered safety audits. Behavior-based safety is designed and managed by employees resulting in a truly employee-driven process. In addition, behavior-based safety is a more positive process that places greater emphasis on employee involvement in the use of the observation data, to developing action plans for continuous improvement. As a result, behavior-based safety creates a much higher and more consistent level of feedback supporting safe workplace practices as compared with a typical STOP observation process.

How much does behavior-based safety typically cost and what is the payback?

The cost depends on the size and complexity of the client organization and the level of support required. An implementation process at a single location with 250 employees will typically average from $40,000 to $60,000. In our experience, implementation costs have ranged from $12,000 for small sites to over $250,000 for very large organizations. Many organizations see a return on their investment in as little as twelve months. QSE will be happy to provide a no-cost economic analysis to assist you in assessing the value of behavior-based safety to your organization.

What other companies use it?

Industrial organizations such as Citgo, Chevron, and Tenneco Gas Pipeline that were striving for a reputation as innovators in the field of safety were among the first to use behavioral safety. Today, behavior-based safety has been widely accepted as an important element of an organization’s total health, safety, and environmental effort. Behavior-based safety now has a proven track record in numerous industries including manufacturing, food processing, chemical plants, office environments, oil field operations, hospitals, isolated field service operations, delivery fleets, and construction.

How does a company know if it is ready for behavior-based safety?

Readiness is a complex issue that must be assessed based on the culture of the client organization. In general, readiness requires three things: 1) employees must believe that management is committed to safety; 2) management demonstrates this commitment by ensuring that facilities are properly designed and maintained; and 3) employees are willing to work with management to minimize the risk of injury.

What can we do to get ready for behavior-based safety?

Companies can do two things to help pave the way for a behavior-based safety process. First, ensure that managers and supervisors are providing effective leadership by developing working relationships with employees that foster open dialogue and communication. The result is a managerial environment of trust that will help maximize the acceptance of behavior-based safety. Second, executive management needs to ensure that the organization aggressively addresses physical hazards and unsafe working conditions. Quality Safety Edge also offers safety leadership programs to help companies improve their readiness for behavior-based safety.

How does behavior-based safety involve employees?

Quality Safety Edge creates employee ownership working with a team of employees to plan and implement the behavior-based safety process. This involvement in the design process results in a high level of employee ownership and support. After the initial kick-off, employees continue to participate in training and in conducting safety observations with their work groups. In addition, they themselves use the resulting data to develop action plans to address hazards and encourage safe work practices.

How does a company implement behavior-based safety?

Implementation typically follows several steps. The first step is an assessment to evaluate the organization’s readiness for behavior-based safety and identify a Design Team to plan the behavior-based safety process. The Design Team then 1) creates a checklist of behaviors that are critical to safety, 2) plans a process by which employees can conduct peer safety observations. and 3) develops a process for using the data to develop action plans. After management approval, the Design Team implements its plans by training other employees to conduct observations and participate in the new process. In addition, the Design Team usually arranges both individual recognitions and employee celebrations to support employee participation.

Does it replace my current safety process?

Absolutely not. Behavior-based safety supplements other elements of an organization’s safety process by supporting safety practices and providing data that helps the organization prioritize and address conditions and design factors that contribute to unsafe acts.

Does behavior-based safety only deal with safety behavior? What about conditions?

Behavior-based safety provides data that can be useful in addressing facilities issues, as well as encourage safe work practices. Often facilities issues cause employees to take risk. Behavior-based safety teams use observation data to effectively deploy engineering and maintenance resources to address hazards where exposure or potential severity is high.

How do you overcome this misperception and build employee support for the process?

Often employees consider behavioral safety to be a spy process. The strategy for overcoming such a perception is first to provide an education that brings about a more accurate understanding of behavioral safety. Next, after implementation the organization must ensure the process contributes to a culture that encourages employees to work safely while continually addressing any and all facilities issues that are or may be contributing to at-risk behavior. Effective leadership by supervision and management is a key factor that contributes to the trust necessary to overcome this negative perception.

What is the role of managers and supervisors?

Supervisors and managers have a responsibility to support the process. The Design Team members actually plan these leadership roles and operationally define how supervisors and managers are to be involved. Supervisors and managers typically need to conduct safety observations in the same way as other employees.

Can we not develop our own process? Why do we need outside consultants?

Some companies do attempt to create their own behavior-based safety process. Our experience suggests that only 20-30% of those are successful at creating the kind of employee involvement that they are looking for. Many companies find that they can implement an effective behavior-based safety process more quickly and more effectively with outside help. Experienced consultants help organizations avoid potential pitfalls and false starts that can be difficult to overcome. Outside expertise is especially important to organizations that have logistical challenges, trust issues, or other potential barriers to implementation.