Behavior Based Safety

Understanding the fundamentals of Behaviour-Based Safety

Behaviour-Based Safety (BBS) or Behavioural Safety is the use of behavioural psychology to improve and encourage safety at work. It may be aligned with a company’s safety management system or safety observation system. Those in the industry who know about BBS usually are on ‘either side of the fence’ about it; meaning they are either supportive and believe in it, or just do not believe in BBS at all. BBS can be effective if properly implemented. A well designed BBS program if not implemented correctly, only looks good on paper or presentations but will be ineffective. Implementation can be challenging as I have come to know myself recently.
Management support and buy-in of the BBS program is key for it to be successfully implemented. Furthermore, to show management’s commitment we should take responsibility to communicate the program throughout the organisation and to be involved as well. “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” (John Maxwell) This brings me to communication; the BBS Program should be communicated to all levels of the organisation and to all departments not only the technical and operation departments. How it is communicated is also key. Several channels and methods should be used, with some targeting specific departments. E.g. The BBS program can be discussed at the operations department tool box talk meeting. As mentioned there should be engagement and participation from all departments and all levels of the organisation. This can be influenced again by management commitment. However, it is important to know that participation in BBS should be voluntary and not forced. It comes down to the organisation’s culture which will have to be assessed before implementation. This will tell if the company is ready for BBS. Many companies have safety committees or safety teams involving personnel outside of the HSE department. The same can be done for BBS; the formation of a behaviour based safety observation team can include personnel from all levels and departments of the organisation. “BBS is about everyone’s behaviour, not just the frontline” (Agnew & Ashworth, 2012)
Behaviour can be observed and measured. E.g. disembarking and embarking tug vessels by jumping across (decision making and situational awareness). Three components make up behaviour- antecedent, the behaviour itself and consequence or as we know it A B C. Antecedent can be the environment or collective events which prompts behaviour. E.g. deadlines and pressure to meet goals. Consequence is the reaction to the behaviour and not in fact the results of the behaviour e.g. in BBS the consequence is positive or negative reinforcement. Consequence has the greatest influence on Behaviours. It is important to set clear goals for the observers and employees. This way measurement is also easier. The BBS observation team can create a criteria or list of behavioural traits that they will observe. E.g. Situational awareness, workload management, leadership, communication and personal limitations.
A major question that is often raised is, should incentives and or rewards be used in BBS program and do they work? When it comes to incentives and rewards staff may be motivated to participate and this leads to the problem; are they motivated only because of the incentives and rewards? If they are you will eventually have false observations and reporting. Incentives can be used in the form of rewards and recognition; the same applies when results are delivered. This way it shows that successes are recognised and rewarded as well as following the proper observation procedures and processes. Safety incentives and rewards should be reasonable enough to support the process and safe behaviour and compliance while not encouraging false reporting. Recognition should be key as this by itself is a form of positive reinforcement; it not only shows that their time in participation is recognised but also their effort and quality of observations and feedback given. Positive reinforcement in BBS goes beyond saying “good job”. If an observer notices a positive behaviour by giving immediate praise and recognition it will reinforce the good behaviour observed. The employee will then be aware of exactly what they are doing correct. A perfect example I like to use is from personal experience after going aboard a tugboat. After my visit, I spoke to the tug master and said “Captain I am impressed with the house keeping on the vessel, there are no slip or trip hazards on and below deck, everything seems to be well stored and clean.” By pointing this out to the tug master, I was being specific on what I observed and specifically what the good practice was. Therefore communicating this to the captain made him aware of exactly what he and his crew were doing correctly and motivates him to continue doing so. In case one observes negative behaviour or unfavourable behaviour constructive feedback can be used. This, unlike positive reinforcement, is not done immediately; instead it is targeted via training and video demonstrations showing the correct processes and more importantly the consequence of the negative behaviour (resulting in injury or accident). Negative reinforcement and any form of punishment should be avoided in BBS since it can create the image of a blame culture. I mentioned at the start that BBS can be effective if implemented successfully. This topic continues to cause great debate between the believers and opponents. While it comes with its challenges, if a company’s culture is ready and management supports the program, I believe it can take a company closer to safety excellence.