Safety Corner: Behavior-Based Safety

Creating a Culture of Safety Compliance

by Stephen Zasadil, WSRCA safety consultant, president, SNK Services LLC

(Editor’s Note: Stephen Zasadil spent ten years as a safety of flight operator with the United States Navy before beginning his career as a safety compliance consultant in 2009. He currently works with companies across the United States to provide OSHA compliance information, documentation, and training.)

The way we get things done, also known as behaviors, have always had a major role in safety, and they always will. You may have been told before that you are the one responsible for your safety, as it is a central theme to most safety meetings. Most of the modern world now places a priority first on conditional safety, while entities such as OSHA focus on leadership providing a safe working environment. Do these jobs according to the codes of safe practices and you will be in compliance. If you are in compliance, no one can get hurt.

We all know that last statement to be false. Compliance is necessary and is a giant leap towards a safe work environment, however conditional safety compliance rules alone only represent the guidelines. The actual work being done, and how our people perform the work is the other piece of the safety puzzle. This is where Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) programs shine.

Some behaviors in safety must be controlled and are part of leadership’s responsibility to maintain compliance when it comes to training, equipment, environment, and PPE. Some, however, only can be influenced. In essence, it means creating a culture where our staff will work safely, even when the safety guy or gal isn’t watching. Safety behaviors fall into two different and important categories: injury prevention behaviors and safety culture behaviors.


Injury Prevention Behaviors

In most safety programs, there are mandatory behaviors that are covered by rules, policies, procedures, personal protective equipment, etc. By emphasizing these behaviors, and providing training on how to implement them, we create the groundwork for a safe work environment. There are also suggested injury prevention behaviors, which generally go beyond what is considered compliance, and can include keeping your eyes focused on the road and looking both ways before crossing the street. The attempt to ingrain these behaviors as habit is how cultures are developed.


Safety Culture Behaviors

All groups working together over an extended period create shared beliefs and eventually align behaviors specific to safety within their culture. Safety cultures are nothing new, and yes, you already have one. However, is it the one you want? When it comes to safety, there is always room to improve.

Positive verbal feedback is a powerful way to reinforce safe behavior and a cornerstone of effective BBS. When you give employees feedback about safe behavior, be specific about what you observed. For example, to a forklift operator you might say, “Thank you for driving slowly around that corner and using your horn to warn others.” Avoid generalizations such as, “Thanks for driving the forklift carefully.” Deliver feedback on performance immediately after the behavior or as soon after the behavior as possible. Also, be sure to identify the person or group to whom you’re giving the feedback by name. For example, “Mike, thanks for mopping up that spilled water. You just prevented someone from slipping and falling and getting injured.” Avoid saying things like, “Thanks, everyone, for keeping the floor clean.”

Corrective feedback is providing information on what an employee is doing incorrectly and also providing information for improvement. It does not merely scold employees, but instead calls attention to a specific behavior and helps increase the chances of safer behaviors in the future. When giving corrective feedback, be specific and focus on the correct behavior only, not other behaviors. Also, be objective and talk about the behavior, not the person.

The ideal BBS program collects large amounts of information about employee habits to affect change and hopefully take the company’s safety program to the next level. Dedicated involvement from every employee, including the CEO, contractors, and subcontractors, makes the program even stronger. The most basic level of BBS would include methods to identify critical problem behaviors, identify root causes, generate potential actions, evaluate possible actions, develop an action plan, implement an action plan, and conduct a follow up.

While implementing a BBS program can help EHS managers register both safe and unsafe behaviors to prevent incidents, it also has the added benefit of improving a company’s overall safety culture. With a more mindful approach to behavior, EHS managers, along with employees and upper management, can create an atmosphere where safety is at the forefront every day.