HealthComplianceESGMarch 07, 2019

The pros and cons of behavior-based safety (BBS)

Behavior-Based Safety is a program used to inform employees of their overall safety performance. It was founded on the belief that workers can be motivated to behave safely through the use of positive reinforcement.

BBS focuses on the actions and behaviors of individual employees. It puts the responsibility of safety on the shoulders of all employees, rather than just management alone.

The Ongoing Debate Over Behavior-Based Safety

Implementation of behavior-based safety programs has caused a lot of debate within the safety community.

Supporters of the program argue that BBS forces the entire company to keep safety at the forefront of their minds. Meanwhile, critics say that there are just too many drawbacks for a BBS program to be effective.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?

Is there any value in a behavior-based safety program?

You’ll need to review the pros and cons and make that decision for yourself. If implemented properly, a BBS program can be effective. But if you go into it without careful thought and consideration, you may be setting yourself (and your company) up for failure.

Here are some of the pros and cons of a behavior-based safety approach:

Pros of BBS Programs

  • BBS programs encourage employee participation. One positive aspect of BBS is that it encourages full participation among all employees. The program aims to provide a clear view of what is and isn’t working in regard to safety. In fact, a true BBS program cannot function without the involvement and participation from all levels of employees.
  • BBS programs utilize positive reinforcement. When it comes to workplace safety, a little positivity can go a long way. “Safety” isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite topic at work. Most employees dread going to training or having to sit through safety meetings. Putting a positive spin on safety can improve the overall safety culture of your workplace.

Cons of BBS Programs

  • BBS programs are difficult to maintain. In order to be effective, a BBS program needs full support from top tier management. It also needs to be consistently utilized and evaluated. BBS will not be effective if it’s just “implemented” but lacks structure, dedication, and follow-up.
  • BBS programs inadvertently place “blame” on employees. While putting “blame” on employees is not the intent of a true BBS program, it’s difficult to separate it out. After all, behavior-based safety is supposed to focus on the actions and behaviors of individuals.
  • BBS programs can result in inaccurate reporting. Because the program is structured to reward “good” behavior, accidents and injuries can go unreported. Nobody wants to be the one who breaks the “days without injury” streak. Additionally, employees are not keen on investigations and in-depth conversations when things go wrong or when unsafe behavior is observed.
  • BBS programs often identify the wrong “root cause”. When unsafe behaviors are observed, or when injuries do occur, BBS requires incident investigations. But often times these investigations focus on what happened instead of the root cause, or why it happened.

Behavior-Based Safety: Things to Keep in Mind

Behavior-based safety is not something that you can just ease into. Effective implementation requires careful planning, long-term commitment, and support from everyone within your organization.

So how should you proceed with your decision?

EHS Today has an article on the six biggest mistakes companies make when implementing a BBS program. Ask yourself if you are on the path to making any of these same mistakes:

1) Thinking that observation and participation are the core of behavior-based safety.
2) Failing to apply positive reinforcement systematically and effectively.
3) Changing only the hourly employees.
4) Making behavior-based safety the primary responsibility of the employees.
5) Not training managers, supervisors and hourly employees in the core principles of behavior change technology.
6) Trying to fit an activities-based “program” to your organization.

Check out the article to learn more about these particular problems.

For more tips about implementing safety programs at your facility, explore our blog posts, especially our Safetips. Enablon is committed to providing you with the best tools and tips for improving workplace safety at your organization.

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