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Put Some Energy Back into Your BBS Process through Employee Initiated – “Lean” Observations

I’m not advocating that you discard the 30 minute observational audits you have come to know and love. Of course you need a thorough assessment of the work setting to encourage a thorough assessment of risk, but everyone knows that after a few years – even months – these things get pretty routine and uninspiring.

I’m continuing to advocate putting some sizzle back into your behavior-based safety process by encouraging employees to carry observation cards in their back pocket and to perform spontaneous, brief observations of their peers – when their peers ask for the observation.

The key point here is the observation checklist; let’s think “lean” for a moment. But maybe you can’t – you can’t change your observation process because you paid a consulting company $MM dollars for a process and if you change it they will sue you. Bet you think I’m joking; check your contract.Some of the big consulting houses claim that a particular way of applying a BBS process is their proprietary property – they own it – and they may own your process and you can’t change it.

Hopefully you are not one of those companies in bondage to a BBS process that is running you, not you running it.But if you have some latitude – if you can be creative – try the idea of focusing on a few behaviors that are relevant to specific jobs and work groups. I said a few “behaviors,” not categories like “lifting ergonomically correctly.” More like “feet pointed toward the object being lifted or moved.”

Behaviors are very specific muscular movements; they can be observed as they are stated: “Places safety glasses on your face before walking into the door of the plant. ”Instead of, “Is wearing proper protective equipment.” Verbal behavior is extremely important in the workplace.We are humans (most of us), with the ability to communicate fairly precisely through language.

For instance: “Joe, this box is too heavy for me to lift alone; would you give me a hand?” That is a verbal behavior; it can be observed and counted and reinforced. On Joe’s observation card – because there has been a recent rash of sprains and strains or because of changes in through-put or the work process has increased the need for lifting behavior – we include this behavior: “Ask a co-worker for assistance when an object exceeds the specified safe weight.”

Instead of going to committee on this, the employees are encouraged to place behavior on their “Lean Observation Card,” that they are concerned about or that have recently surfaced as risks. They are in control of the risks they encounter and they can solicit help from their peers or supervisors.

They pull the very short, personalized card out of their back pocket, walk up to a co-worker in their work group and say, “Hey Jim, would you check me out on for a second? I’m trying to break a couple of unsafe habits; I’m always twisting when I lift and I can’t seem to remember to align my feet with the object. If I don’t align properly, scream at me like my wife does (just kidding), let me know. I’m keeping a personal graph on my safe behavior to make some changes.”

Uh Oh, you say; “That’s not gonna work.” No employee is going to keep a graph on their own behavior. They can’t self-manage the way a manager or supervisor can.” (J, another blog topic).Frontline employees can do anything that they think is reasonable and puts control into their own hands.You provide the organizational template – orient them to the process, give them the right…the paper and the place and they will do the job.

One of the problems with BBS is that it assumes the best way to change behavior is by providing positive feedback to an employee for working safely, and that will “reinforce the right behavior.” Well, there is nothing wrong with that, but what’s wrong with allowing, preparing, advocating and training people to self-manage through the use of checklists and co-worker engagement? Acknowledging that employees can take charge of their own behavior will, in and of itself, encourage behavior change.

Let’s summarize:

  • Employee self-management
  • Short, in the pocket behavioral checklist
  • Employee can change for relevance and impact
  • Employee keeps their own measurement
  • Employee asks co-worker to “Check me out”


  • Augments existing lengthy observational process
  • Creates increased level of employee empowerment
  • Increases the “look out for each other” factor
  • Decreases the stigma about being watched
  • Behavioral samples more valid

I’m sure you can think of other benefits.Talk to your employees about this process; see if they think self-management and peer engagement is a good idea.