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Reviving a Struggling Behavior-Based Safety Process: Use Observational Capability to Improve Quality and Productivity

Sooner or later you hit the wall; your process becomes routine…your observers are going through the motions…they may be pencil whipping out of boredom. Employees have lost interest; it is getting harder and harder to keep the steering committee interested in meeting.

Anyone who is involved in Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) for any length of time is going to go through this down cycle and hear other companies voice these same complaints. The answer is too simple to get much attention: Apply trained observer skills in other areas of organizational performance.

Your trained observers know how to identify specific behaviors – safe and unsafe. Why not apply that skill to other types of behaviors? What employee behaviors might decrease costs? What behaviors might improve efficiency – save time, redundancy, parallel efforts, improve communication, decrease waste, and improve a system or process?

BBS observers need to stick to safety, but what about the observers that have been trained and are not currently doing observations, or all the people who have rotated through their role as observers and are no longer doing safety observations?

Trained observers understand “behavioral root-cause analysis” (often referred to as the ABC Analysis). They know how to identify the factors that contribute to behavioral causation . You don’t have to have a Six Sigma Process or a Lean Manufacturing initiative in place to organize your trained observers to identify behaviors that either create waste or the behaviors themselves are a waste of time.

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t ask the question, “Why are they asking me to do this? It’s a waste of time.” I bet you’ve had the same experience. Not only do employees routinely identify job behaviors that waste time and money, but they usually have a suggestion about a behavior (or behaviors) that will work better – save time and money.

If your company has implemented BBS, you’ve already invested in training your employees to “observe what works and what does not.” If you are not using that investment to improve quality and productivity, you are leaving money on the table. You have to do is ask employees to identify behaviors in their job that can be deleted or behaviors that need to be added to the job. The same goes for processes and procedures – let your behaviorally savvy employees help you find a more efficient way – a better behavior.

You don’t want to go “lean” on safety behavior. You want to make sure that employees have the time and take the time to be safe; you do want to eliminate (go lean) on behavior that wastes time and resources.

Gather a few of your trained observers – active and inactive. Explain this approach and ask them what they think is the best way to apply it.Maybe each observer could collect ideas from employees; maybe each employee is asked to “observe” their own jobs and identify behaviors they have always wanted to delete or add.

The idea of “doing it lean” is pretty appropriate for the economic times. Employees who are bored with “just doing safety observations,” may find it interesting and novel to use their skills to eliminate waste – to reduce costs to the company and insure people keep their jobs.

Safe behavior, quality related behavior, productivity related behavior, efficient behavior, time-saving behavior – it’s all behavior – what people do on the job. Why not turn behavior-based safety into behavior-based quality, and behavior-based productivity. Not doing more; doing it differently or not doing something that doesn’t work well.