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Using BBS Observation Skills for Emergency Preparedness

If you are implementing behavior-based safety correctly, you have taught your observers what a behavior “is,” or “is not” – meaning they know a behavior from a non-behavior. A behavior can be observed; a non-behavior, like “thoughtfulness,” (the word implies a state of mind, not directly observable behavior) cannot be directly observed.We can only observe behaviors (something someone says or does); we use the word “thoughtful” when we later summarize all the specific behaviors for someone else.

So when I say Bob is really “thoughtful,” I am usually summarizing my individual behavioral observations, perhaps over time and in different circumstances, rather than say, “I saw Bob open the door for a female coworker, send his wife flowers on their anniversary, phone a sick coworker, help a kitten out of a tree, and visit his neighbor in the hospital.”

Your observers should (if you are allowing them to evolve their skills and rewarding them for new ideas – new approaches) be developing good “observational skills” – like Sherlock Holmes, they should be picking up on increasingly fine-grained discriminations about what they see others doing at work.And hopefully, they know the difference between a state of mind (something they can’t see) and a physical behavior (something someone says or does that can be directly observed and counted.)

“Performing observations” increases an employee’s self-awareness about their own job behavior; they become more vigilant and often rehearse their movements self-consciously in accord with observational checklists.They anticipate possible contingencies – variations that might create risk or lead to an incident.

“Being observed” has a similar effect.Although knowing that you are being observed may create a level of self-consciousness, that is not a bad thing.Self-consciousness is a heightened state of awareness – a more intense state of mental focus. Physical and mental practice are important components of building or rebuilding work habits – of creating new neurological pathways – often referred to as “habits.”

Any company implementing BBS – observing people at work for all the reasons stated above – should also use the observational process to develop emergency response practices and behaviors to a level that equips employees to react automatically to prescribed situations. Most jobs functions have either “high-risk” tasks, or high-risk situations – many of which have been identified because of past accidents or near-misses.

Even if there is not precedent, a brain-storming session about almost any job allows us to identify potential circumstances where we will need to react quickly and automatically to the situation.In most cases, when emergencies happen – because they are usually rare events – no one is prepared and chaos prevails.

The media is rich with examples of crisis situations where unprepared employees panicked and the consequences were dire.Each of us has an emergency brake in our car; if your brakes fail coming up to a stop light, will you have the presence of mind to quickly reach down and pull (or push with your foot, an even more demanding emergency response) the emergency brake?

If you are honest, you know full well that you would probably panic and keep stabbing the foot brake harder and faster. The only way you can be prepared for that specific emergency is to get in an empty shopping mall parking lot and practice quickly coming to a stop using the emergency brake.Even better, if someone in the car cues the stopping crisis by yelling “stop!” or “tricycle!”

Trained BBS observers can work with employees to help prepare them for the most likely job-specific, hazardous, at-risk situations. Observers can take 5 to 10 minutes to watch one or more employees practice their response behaviors in high-risk situations where the employee will not likely “pull up the handbrake.”

The idea of practicing to handle emergency situations is not new. The notion of using BBS observers to provide employees with feedback while they practice “what-if,” scenarios for job specific situations is new – to me. If you have been using your BBS trained observers (which should include every employee, but that’s another discussion) to strengthen emergency, crisis, high-risk, and unanticipated circumstances, then I apologize and please send me an email and tell me about your experiences.

Your employees may not have to land an Airbus 320 on the Hudson River, but I’ll bet you can think of some situations where an employee or a coworker may need to perform a proportionately dramatic response. Your coworker falls from the scaffold and is hanging by his safety belt. You are the only one around; what do you do?

There are a thousand similar possibilities, but like at-risk behaviors, there are some more probable than others. If we don’t practice our responses in these likely circumstances, we are unlikely to react decisively and effectively. This is just one more potential opportunity to profit from the observation process and build increased interest in the observer role.