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Don’t Make this Common Mistake When Implementing a Behavior-Based Safety Program

common mistakes when implementing a behaviour based safety program

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Behavior-based safety done right can be very effective at helping you discover what’s wrong with an organization, find the core organizational causes of risk…Done wrong, it can be used to mask organizational and management failures.

Larry Hansen, CSP, ARM, author and principal of L2H Speaking of Safety Inc., EHS Today

Behaviours are a key component of safety in an organization. Behaviour-Based Safety (BBS) programs have been shown to increase awareness of safety expectations and contribute towards continuous improvement in safety performance. The Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) report that analysis of incidents shows that +/- 90% of them have the behaviour of the person(s) involved as a key contributing factor. Of the 10% remaining, +/- 90% of them have the behaviour of a person, not directly involved in the incident, as a contributing factor.

Therefore, increasing the number of safe behaviours being performed is essential for incident reduction or elimination.

Many companies implement a BBS model in order to crack down and understand employee actions. These types of BBS models can create a negative atmosphere as the poor safety choices are singled out. BBS programs like these are doomed for failure from the start because they fail this important tenant of achieving lasting change in humans: systematic and effective positive reinforcement.

BBS programs that reinforce positive actions systematically and effectively can be a driver for the cultural shift companies are after. A major challenge with BBS programs is that risk taking behaviour by an employee can sometimes save them time and effort which self-perpetuates positive consequences and is likely to become a repeated behaviour. Applying principles of Antecedent Behaviour Consequence (ABC) analysis reveals that although there are positive consequences for an employee conducting an unsafe behaviour, there are also consequences that either encourage or discourage repetition of the behaviour.

Therefore, delivering regular positive reinforcement for safe behaviors is the key to replacing unsafe habits with safe habits. Including regular positive examples of following process and utilizing equipment properly during safety meetings and toolbox talks changes the atmosphere of safety at a company. Employees are more likely to share ideas to improve current processes and ultimately drive continuous improvement if they know that positive actions are reinforced and shared. There are no black sheep of the herd.

…Sometimes a small advantage some place in life can yield tremendous results someplace else.

Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes TED Talk

Expert in the psychology of behavioural change, BJ Fog, PhD. outlines in his behavioural change program, “3 Tiny Habits”, three things that change behaviour in the long term:

  1. Have an epiphany
  2. Change your context (what surrounds you)
  3. Take baby steps

Options 2 and 3 are emphasized since they are more practical than having “an epiphany”. Option 3 – taking baby steps involves starting a “tiny habit”. These small changes, especially when rewarded, add up over time and are proven to be effective a long term behavioural changes. Terry More in his Ted Talk (video transcript available here) demonstrates how a small change to an everyday activity can have a big impact. Within a BBS program, successfully replacing a lot of singular unsafe habits with safe habits that are systematically and effectively rewarded when performed by every single employee in your workforce can have a positive impact on your performance metrics. All the little changes add up to fewer near misses, slips, trips and falls. Give it a shot!


Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA): Best Practice for Behaviour Based Safety

How to Change Behavior: A Theoretical Overview. Healthy Psych: Helping Humans Become More Human

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