Behavioral Safety - What's it all about?

Behavioral Safety - What's it all about?

29th March 2016

Behavioural safety is the application of behavioural research on human performance in order to effect changes that will lead to an improvement in overall safety.  It’s basically a process that creates a safety partnership between employees and management that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on their daily safety behaviour and that of others around them.  While many may suppose that if they do something to improve safety that involves people, it’s behavioural safety, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Behavioural safety involves a systematic, improvement intervention with the introduction of a planned schedule of events that combine to create an overall continuous improvement intervention.  This will usually begin with briefing sessions for all work areas and departments that will be involved in the process.  People are then asked to volunteer to either become observers or part of the project team or steering committee.  These people are then trained to carry out their duties effectively.

The project team will identify unsafe behaviours and place them on a checklist and those being monitored will need to ensure that agree with the behaviours on the checklist.  Once checklists have been created the trained observers will carry out observations for a set period of time to establish a baseline with which subsequent performance is compared.  The average baseline is determined and the intervention is implemented at goal setting sessions (also known as kick-off meetings) where the workgroups set improvement targets for themselves.  The trained observers then continue to monitor colleagues’ safety behaviour on a regular basis.  Observations scores will then be analysed in order to provide those involved with detailed feedback.  The project team will also monitor the data for trends so that improvements can be highlighted and corrective action taken when necessary.

Behavioural safety involves a significant amount of employee participation but has the advantage of fully engaging the workforce in safety management.  While traditional styles of safety management has been driven by managers it results in workers being left out of the safety improvement process.  Including the workforce in the process is a much more effective method and delivers measurable results quickly.  Behavioural safety overcomes this by deliberately involving those who are most likely to be injured by unsafe behaviours.  The degree of workforce involvement results in ownership and a commitment to the process making it much more likely to succeed.

Behavioural safety targets specific types of unsafe behaviours that are responsible for the majority of safety incidents.  Targeting these types of behaviour can eliminate the types of incidents associated with them.  As the Behavioural Safety process continues, people begin to identify other unsafe behaviours and place these on the checklists as the original unsafe behaviours are eliminated or better controlled.  The criteria for adding these behaviours are:

  • They must be directly observable (anybody can see them as they happen).
  • They are within people’s control (that means that everything is in place so that people can behave safely).

Ongoing feedback is a critical component of any sort of improvement initiative like this and behavioural safety feedback usually comes in three forms:

  1. Verbal feedback to people at the time of observation.
  2. Graphical feedback with weekly trends of behavioural performance is displayed on large graphs in strategic locations.
  3. Weekly feedback reports that are discussed by workers.