Behavior Based Safety (BBS Program)

4,000 workers die on the job each year, while 50,000 more pass away from occupational illnesses.



Behavior-based safety, also known as BBS

…is a broad term used to describe everything from basic employee behavior audits and feedback…

…to a comprehensive safety management system designed to change a company’s safety culture…

…by altering work processes and management and employee behaviors.

So what does that really mean?

It means that an entire company works together to become safer from management down to the workers on the front line. That’s the short answer.

BBS, done right, can be effective at helping organizations discover unsafe behaviors the and core organizational systemic sources of risk.

Here are some of the things that a BBS program can do:

  • Renew focus on the human side of safety;
  • Clearly define safe and unsafe behaviors;
  • Encourage safe behaviors;
  • Involve employees in safety;
  • Enhance accountability for safety in the management tier;
  • Engender commitment and passion, especially in the early phases.

So what is involved in order to design a successful BBS program? Here are some steps:

  1. Build a Design Team
    1. This team should consist of management and frontline employees, serving as volunteers and ultimately, as advocates. This team will design the BBS system, however all employees will be involved in implementation.
  2. Target behaviors are chosen from safety incidents, near miss reporting, safety audits and observation.
    1. First, the design team picks targeted areas of improvement using data from safety audits, workers comp statistics, accident investigations, information from safety meetings, and informal interviews with staff. The team determines prevention efforts for reportable injuries; if it is not immediately obvious the team use methods like discussing how increased situational awareness might have affected the situation. From this analysis, the team will identify critical safe behaviors for an observation checklist.
  3. A critical observational checklist is developed.
    1. An observational checklist is a list of safe behaviors identified in the previous step. These lists can be shortened according to importance of safety, frequency of occurrence, observability, and overlap with other items on the list. Lists should be no more than 1 sheet of paper. It helps to have definitions for everything that is being measured on the back of the checklist. – try not to leave anything up to subjective interpretation. The best way to know if the checklist is useable is to observe an employee working, and see if all categories on the list can be filled out in an observation. The list will need to be revised a number of times before it can be considered ready-to-use, and so should be tested.
  4. Ensure that you have a measurement system.
    1. One measurement system for an observation program is a simple frequency count of safe and risky behaviors during observation. With effective measurement, leadership can create an environment in which people actually want to be measured. Ideally, positive reinforcement of observed behavioral promotes engagement.  When employees receive specific, positive feedback, and are rewarded, there’s a direct correlation supporting the program.
  5. Behavioral observations are carried out
    1. Data shows that the most beneficial system is to have all employees involved in the observation process. Behavioral observations increase safety behaviors of the observed but also the observer; encouraging employees to conduct observations on each other will benefits all employees. The team will need to decide how often observations will be conducted. Will they occur across or within departments? Will a single task or employee be observed, or a work area? Will you include contractors? – if so, try to recruit them at the design phase.
  6. Feedback is delivered
    1. The feedback process requires careful training of employees. The observer should be able to summarize significant positive safety behaviors areas that require change. Feedback should be delivered as soon as possible after the observation. Describe the behavior observed, discuss the potential impact and listen to the observed employee – this formula can be used for both positive and corrective feedback. In addition to individual feedback by the observer, overall site feedback should be reported. Leadership should discuss the results of the observations categorically, not personally at safety meetings, and provide visual feedback. The easiest and most effective way to do this is through creation of a graph. Visual feedback helps measure organizational progress and helps with goal setting. Leaders should respond with positive feedback about improvements, and should encourage objective problem solving.
  7. Make use of the data
    1. With valuable data, teams can enact well-informed, safety-focused process changes. Regular review and reporting of data is key, along with communication related to safety process changes; employees need to know that they are both the source of data and reason for change.
  8. Set improvement goals
    1. Employees should be encouraged to participate in goal setting and goals should be realistic and based on current data. Set short term goals and ensure that each employee knows what behavior or process they need to work on to reach the goal. Remember to focus on the safety process itself and not the results – attempting to manage results will ruin the integrity of the program. Instead of setting goals to increase or decrease results, set goals around the behaviors that lead to these results.

Remember that these programs must be a result of a top down approach. Leading by example is key.

Until next time, stay positive and stay safe.

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