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Overcoming Objections to Behavior-Based Safety: Let Employees Initiate the Observation

When I wrote my last blog about this, I expected a rush of responses about how this idea would transform the ethos surrounding BBS – that the idea would create insights and epiphanies. I expected corporate safety managers and BBS facilitators to gush about the empowering possibilities it released.

Maybe I did not make myself clear: Employees initiate safety observations with their peers; the idea of protecting your coworkers is taken to a new level.You hand your personal safety card to a coworker, supervisor, or BBS observer and say, “Hey…check me out.”

I’m amazed how literal the marketplace is; “Oh no, so and so wrote in his book that you have to do observations this way or that way. ”Folks, BBS is not rocket-science – it’s work sampling. Do random samples of people working, and let them know when they are behaving safely or not. Identify anything in the environment that prevents them from behaving safely, or anything that could make it a safer place to work and expedite the solutions and opportunities.

What about pencil-whipping; how can we trust employees to be honest about what they see or do? Well for one thing, why would you ask someone to watch you work to help ensure you don’t have any bad habits and then want them to lie about what they saw? They are not going to use your name; there is no discipline attached. It’s about self-protection and peer protection.

Yes it is important to keep the data accurately, particularly to record any issues that might impede an employee from performing their work safely. Many companies go wrong because they don’t understand that it is important to use this process positively. You want to reinforce employees for helping the company remove hazards and reduce risk.

It reminds me of the old days; years ago employees were punished for making mistakes - which of course had a direct influence on mistake-hiding and dishonesty. Suddenly, there was a big “aha,” an epiphany; isn’t it really better if employees report their mistakes – that they come to management with problems that could result in unplanned problems or injuries.

Instead of shooting the messenger, it became clear that even though a supervisor is not happy to hear someone confess about a mistake or a problem, the response they have to rehearse is, “Thanks for bringing that to my attention; what do you think we should do to fix it?”

The quality improvement movement in America caused most organizations to rethink the ways they related to frontline employees. The epiphany is really a behavioral one: “Decide what behavior you want to reinforce – consciously decide. Don’t let spontaneity determine whether you thank and employee for bringing a problem to your attention.

My mantra is to increase empowerment for frontline employee in safety. The more they do to protect themselves and each other, the safer the work place will become.Employee willingness to help each has to be somewhat formalized; left to their own devices, people are reluctant to nose into other peoples’ business. “If the fool wants to do it that way; let him. It’s his funeral.”

Those days are over and if you get employees together and train them briefly about the value of behavioral self-awareness and the role their peers can play in facilitating safety self-management – it can happen.

My recommendation is to do a pilot. Take a portion of you workforce – a workgroup or department and try my approach. Do an orientation, ask them to discuss how, when, what, and who.Let them design the details of the process. Allow employees to whip out an observation card and ask a coworker to check them out.

The reason this seems impractical to many organizations is that their observation checklist are 3 pages long and they require 30 minutes to perform. Employees can each have a checklist that will fit on a 3” by 5.” The behaviors on the card should be essential to that person – their circumstances and risks. The precision and focus of this type card accelerates the reduction of at-risk behavior.

Keep it anonymous and positive. Let the employees themselves make a commitment to give each other feedback and keep them safe. I naturally look out for others.I’ve saved a lot of people from getting hurt because I stopped them from walking out in traffic without looking or made them wear their seat belts.

I think this kind of thing is infectious. If you allow an employee to feel good about helping a coworker, that good feeling spreads and becomes an epidemic of thoughtful behavior.