Behaviour-based safety, part three | Your behaviour-based safety programLisa Thibault
by Pourya Ghani, OH&S Technical Advisor
In part two of this series, we discussed the importance of recognizing Keystone Habits at your workplace in transforming unsafe routines into safer habits. While habits reinforce certain behaviours, they are only part of a comprehensive program to eliminate dangerous behaviours at the workplace. An effective behavioural-based safety program supports the overall safety culture in your organization.
The traditional approach of total safety culture is a top-down approach. Rarely defined in most organizations, in this approach:
- Individuals hold safety as a value and not just a priority;
- Individuals take responsibility for the safety of their co-workers in addition to themselves; and
- All employees are willing and able to act on their sense of responsibility, going beyond the call of duty (Perdue, 2000).
Based on this idea, there’s a simple, causal relationship between culture on practices and outcomes. The idea is that safety culture is the antecedent – the thing that comes first – regulating the safety practices and driving the safety outcomes that follow. Unfortunately, when a positive result such as ‘zero Injury’ is set as a target from the top without an active attempt to change behaviours, employees continue performing routine tasks without timely feedback—and eventually, that leads to a serious injury.
To implement an effective behaviour-based safety program into the organizational culture, we need to be proactive and not reactive. Proactive safety measures reduce the likelihood of an incident. When we are proactive, we anticipate accidents, are prepared, minimize response times, reduce the number of injuries that occur in the workplace, and as a result, reduce the number of worker’s compensation claims.
If and when an organization decides to implement a behaviour-based safety program, it has to be through a proactive, collaborative approach with a common aim to standardize safe behaviours. You can use the following steps to develop your program:
- Form a design team
The most effective way to run a behaviour-based safety program is to start with a design team. The team should consist of management and frontline employees, and each member of the team should have heard about behaviour-based safety and volunteered to be on the team. This team will design the behaviour-based safety system, but all employees will be involved in the implementation.
- Choose target behaviours from safety incidents, near-miss reporting, safety audits, and observation
First, the design team chooses targeted areas/ tasks. The team makes decisions on areas needing improvement based on existing safety data: results of safety audits, information from safety meetings, and informal interviews with staff (from the past five years if possible). The team determines what would have prevented the reported injuries; if not immediately apparent, the team discusses how increased situation awareness might have affected the situation. This analysis will identify critical safe behaviours for an observation checklist.
- Develop a critical checklist
Building a checklist based on the list of safe behaviours identified in step 2. Narrow down the list based on the importance of safety, frequency, observability, and overlap with other items. The resulting list should be no more than one sheet of paper (one side). Include definitions for everything you will measure on the back of the checklist. Try not to leave anything up to interpretation. The best way to know if the checklist is useable is to observe an employee working and see if they can fill out all categories on the list during an observation. The list may need to be revised several times before it is ready to use.
- Ensure that you have a measurement system
The measurement system for an observation program is a simple frequency count of safe and risky behaviours during an observation. Note of caution: the act of measuring is an antecedent, and we need a consequence in place to reinforce the behaviour under measurement. When a leader uses a measurement effectively, they can create an environment where people want to be measured. This can happen when positive consequences are delivered based on the observed behaviour change through measurement. When employees receive specific, positive feedback about the results, they will see a benefit, aim higher, and want to be measured.
- Behavioural observations are carried out
Consider who will conduct the observations. The most beneficial approach is to involve all employees in the observation process. Behavioural observations increase safe behaviours not only by those observed but also by the observer. Encouraging employees to observe each other will benefit everyone. The team and all employees will need to decide how often you conduct observations. Will they occur across or within departments? Will you observe a single task/employee or a work area? Will you include contractors? If so, try to recruit them at the design phase.
- Deliver feedback
The process requires careful training of employees. The observer should summarize the significant positive safety behaviours observed and then one or two areas requiring change. The feedback should be delivered as soon as possible after the observation (unless this poses a risk). Describe the behaviour observed, discuss the potential impact, and listen to the observed employee. Use this same formula for both positive and corrective feedback.In addition to individual feedback by the observer, the leader should discuss the results of the observations (categorically, not personally) at safety meetings while also providing visual feedback. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by creating a graph. Visual feedback helps us see how we are doing and set goals. Leaders should respond with positive feedback about any improvements and not react negatively to low numbers on graphs. Instead, use those low numbers to encourage objective problem-solving.
- Make use of the data
You now have valuable data that you can use to guide process changes. Build a review of the data into existing meetings and inform all staff of any changes made based on the data. Make sure they know it was because of their contribution (as a group—avoid recording names).
- Set improvement goals
Encourage employees to participate, and set realistic goals based on the current data. Set short-term goals and ensure that each employee knows what behaviour or process to work on to reach the goal. Remember to focus on the safety process itself and not the results. Attempting to manage effects will ruin the integrity of the program. Instead of setting goals to increase or decrease results, set goals around the behaviours that lead to these results (e.g., increase wearing of safety goggles from 80% to 100%).
In a nutshell, behavioural observations are the key to developing a robust behaviour-based safety program. In a feedback-rich environment, everybody is learning, processes don’t ‘die out,’ and goals are clear. Behaviour-based safety is very much about the employer working closely with employees. This can be an opportunity to offer feedback on behaviours and correct the unsafe ones before they can significantly impact your organization.
Additional concepts to consider
An effective observation process offers:
- Improved safety practices of observers and those observed;
- Increased situation awareness;
- Feedback on the effectiveness of safety processes;
- A baseline to set improvement goals;
- A forum for recognition of positive behaviours (McSween, 2003).
An effective behaviour-based safety programme includes:
- Set clear and realistic goals: what do you want to achieve? How will you know that you have achieved it?
- Pilot the intervention in a small section or department of the organization first – pick an easy area where people are accessible, positive and in a stable environment.
- Contact similar companies or trade associations to discuss their interventions and experiences.
- Listen to your employees and use the process to improve communication.
- Involve employees early in the choice of programme to increase the likelihood of employee investment and participation and feel a sense of ownership.
- Tailor the language, style and branding of the programme to your organization. Market it to the employees like any product or service.
- Focus on the root causes of errors and accidents in the workplace: not just actions, but motivations or consequences behind the actions.
- Always emphasize that safety is not a priority, which can change according to external factors, but a core value to consider in every action and task that an employee undertakes.