Safety Culture and Behavioral Safety

Making the Most of Behavior-Based Safety Data

When it comes to improving safety performance, behavior-based safety (BBS) programs can be useful and effective. BBS (sometimes called safety observations) is a method of avoiding human error and improving workplace safety by observing and analyzing employees’ behavior while they work.

BBS helps determine why at-risk behavior occurs on the job and the steps necessary to change at-risk behavior into safe behavior. The BBS method uses materials and activities to encourage safe behavior; it also uses observation of behaviors to determine whether behaviors are safe or unsafe, and uses positive or corrective feedback to reinforce safe behavior and change unsafe behavior.

Keep it simple

For BBS to be successful, data input must be simple and there must be a feedback loop between the “shop floor” and management. You want to enable employees to have a direct way to share observations, both positive and negative, in a convenient and streamlined way.

You’re already on track if your organization is using a safety management platform that allows any employee to simply report issues (incidents, accidents, near misses, and observations). You’re even further ahead of the game if your system allows all personnel to report issues through a desktop portal or mobile device.

This gets everyone involved in safety and arms safety leaders with information that can help them make critical safety improvements. In order to extract meaningful insights, though, the data must be consistent and in a quantity that enables thoughtful analysis.

Deriving actionable insights

The BBS methodology calls for the recording of observations and conditions, both unsafe and safe. BBS involves collecting and acting on this data, as management can take action on unsafe behaviors and conditions before an incident occurs. Unlike incident reporting, where it usually takes a long time to capture enough data to make analysis meaningful, most BBS programs require team members to capture observations at a high frequency, creating a high volume of data for analysis.

It’s ineffective to capture data if you can’t take action on it, so safety leaders must have tools to help them make the most of the data. Software can provide you with the analytical capabilities you need as you dig into the safety trends and identify problems that need to be corrected. It can help normalize the data and ensure that safety leaders are making apples-to-apples comparisons as they analyze it.

Software programs like Dakota Scout allow users to capture and analyze EHS event data, including BBS observations, and proactively improve performance. Scout allows safety leaders to review BBS data, as well as near-miss and incident data, to discover compliance gaps and potential problem areas. Not only trends, but also subtle correlations between data points that might go unnoticed with typical reporting tools. It allows them to leverage their knowledge of the site, processes, and personnel, to identify areas of risk and strategize solutions.

This analysis can be done across locations to help prioritize and take action on the areas with the highest risks. By viewing safety programs across the enterprise in real time, safety leaders can spot trends and correlations between data fields that may have been missed otherwise.

Taking appropriate Corrective Actions

Having a system for establishing and tracking Corrective Actions (CA) that stem from these insights is important to ensuring the unsafe behaviors are addressed to the employee(s) that performed them. Action management software consolidates Corrective Actions and compliance tasks that originated from incidents, audit findings, and compliance profiles to get that broad overview of the organization’s safety status.

In his 2000 paper Behavioral Safety Analysis: A Necessary Precursor to Corrective Action, E. Scott Geller, PhD, considered by many to be the pioneer of BBS, suggested that before choosing a BBS intervention strategy, safety leaders should conduct a behavioral safety analysis of the situation, behavior, and individuals involved. This should include asking the following questions:

  • What is the performance discrepancy?
  • Is change called for?
  • Are expectations clear?
  • Is behavior-based feedback available?
  • What are the natural consequences?
  • Does a skill discrepancy exist?
  • Can the task be simplified?
  • Is the person right for the task?
  • What kind of training is needed?
  • Which solutions yield the most for the least effort?

Geller noted that the first questions look at task context or elements of the task itself.

“Common contextual variables include: a) unclear or misunderstood expectancies; b) upside-down contingencies that reward at-risk behavior or punish safe behavior; and c) the lack of behavior-based feedback to help people improve. Often, a job can be simplified or re-engineered to reduce physical or mental effort, which decreases the probability of personal injury,” he wrote. “Training should be considered only after critical contextual and task variables have been analyzed and corrected. Some training is required to help people practice actions needed to handle a rare event, while other training is needed to help people change frequently occurring at-risk behavior to safe behavior. In addition, training is needed when a new procedure or process is introduced. Each situation requires behavior-based feedback—and the situation and individuals involved determine the protocol for delivering this feedback.”

Once the context of conditions and behaviors are understood and the risks are identified, CAs can be created and tracked to closure. Ensuring CAs are addressed and communicated is critically important to an organization’s safety culture. Software systems that establish accountability using alerts and reminders can help ensure timely follow-up and feedback to workers. Trending and analysis of the CAs themselves can also prove useful to safety leaders looking to better understand which controls and process changes are the most effective.

The big picture

BBS is not the only safety initiative you should undertake. Rather, it should be part of an overall safety strategy that focuses on developing a strong safety culture. This can be done through appropriate worker training and education, implementing safety audit and inspections programs, and other efforts that encourage employees to become engaged in safety.

But BBS programs can be an important part of your safety programs. They are most effective when reporting is easy to do, the data captured is consistent, and safety leaders have tools to help them understand and take action on the data. Using the right solution can help you make progress in improving your organization’s safety efforts.