Behavior Based Safety Training

Behavior Based Safety Training

Behavior-based safety is a relatively new term that is being used to reflect a proactive approach to safety and health management.

So what exactly is this relatively new concept, and how can it apply to your organization? Let’s begin with a definition. Behavior-based safety describes a proactive approach to injury prevention that either focuses on at-risk behaviors that can lead to an injury, or on safe behaviors that can contribute to injury prevention. In other words, behavior-based safety is an injury prevention process.

Safety is really an evolving process, and that means it’s continuous. If you really want to reduce work-related injuries, and keep reducing them, you need to make safety a way of life by involving employees in daily activities consistent with the vision of a Total Safety Culture.

Though many people can agree on the definition for behavior-based safety, few can agree on what the process actually involves. For example, some experts feel that behavior-based safety should be a rigid set of procedures; others feel it should be more flexible, and should integrate personal values. Still others feel that behavior-based safety should incorporate humanistic concepts, such as self-esteem and personal motivation techniques. Dr. Geller’s process incorporates all of these perspectives in a practical and effective format.

According to Dr. Geller, an organization typically follows a four-phase framework to implement the behavior-based approach and achieve a Total Safety Culture. However, organization size, culture, and goals may mean that the phases need to be tailored to fit your operations.

Phase 1 – Assess your current safety culture and learn about your organization’s infrastructure. This will enable you to develop the tools necessary to plan an appropriate strategy for implementation.

Phase 2 – Educate and train a team of employee representatives to serve as team leaders and champions of the Total Safety Culture process.

Phase 3 – Educate and train all employees about the principles, tools, and implementation strategies.

Phase 4 – Set up and monitor the process’s ongoing implementation and evaluation efforts.

The way each employee views the organization’s corporate culture and the role that each employee plays in helping the organization achieve certain goals can have a significant impact on his or her individual motivation toward safety.

When refining the safety culture and performance of an organization, Dr. Geller identifies some of the most important aspects that you may wish to concentrate on, including:

* Developing clear safety mission and goals at the corporate level.

* Communicating the vision and goals to all levels of the organization.

* Enabling each area of the organization to attain its own specific safety goals.

* Encouraging individual participation by all members of the organization.

* Empowering employees to set and achieve their own safety goals.

* Fostering mutual respect and support at all levels of the organization.

A solid corporate culture is the foundation from which a successful process of employee involvement can be developed and sustained.

Achieving a Total Safety Culture is much easier said than done, but it is within reach when the three domains of the ‘Safety Triad’ identified by Dr. Geller are considered.

Every aspect of safety falls under the three elements of the ‘Safety Triad’ (environment, person, and behavior). To cultivate a Total Safety Culture, we need to address the factors that fall under each of these domains.

Environment – Equipment, tools, machines, housekeeping, heat/cold, engineering, materials, safety rules, standards, operating procedures.

Person – Knowledge, skills, abilities, intelligence, motives, personality, attitudes, and values.

Behavior – Complying, coaching, recognizing, communicating, actively caring.

Dr. Geller notes that over the years, we’ve paid the most attention to environmental factors, and that’s made a difference. We need to keep actively caring about the environment and improving workplace conditions. But, we have not paid enough attention to behavior-based and person-based factors.

Behavior is observable and objective. But, observations can’t always tell you what’s inside a person. Both the inside (person) factors and the outside (behavior) factors need careful attention to cultivate a Total Safety Culture.

Dr. Geller also notes that nearly every injury involves at-risk behavior – the unsafe acts that people perform. So if we want to reduce injuries, we need to understand why people often act unsafely. Injuries will be reduced only if at-risk behaviors decrease and safe behaviors increase.

Dr. Geller defines critical behaviors as those that either need to be avoided, or need to occur in order to prevent personal injury. When targeting critical behaviors to be defined, keep in mind that they should be specific, observable, objective and naturalistic. Specifically, critical behaviors are:

* At-risk behaviors that lead to serious injury or fatality.

* At-risk behaviors that could lead to serious injury or fatality.

* At-risk behaviors that lead to a large number of minor injuries or near misses.

* At-risk behaviors that could contribute to a large number of injuries because many people perform a given task.

* Safe behaviors that need to occur consistently in order to prevent personal injury.

Does your company send the message that working safely is easy or natural, just common sense, or a condition of employment? According to Dr. Geller, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is often more convenient, more comfortable, more expedient, and more common to take risks at work. And, past experience in a particular situation may support our decision to choose the unsafe or at-risk behavior, whether we’re working, traveling, or playing. To avoid at-risk behavior and replace it with safer activities seems to be an ongoing struggle with human nature.

For the most part, people who work routinely at a job or for a particular company know more about the barriers to safe work performance than any outside consultant. As an exercise, make a list of factors at your job or worksite that could adversely affect safe work practices. List specific things such as events, attitudes, demands, distractions, responsibilities, and circumstances that get in the way of performing the job safely. Identify each item with an E, B, or P to indicate whether the primary barrier is an environment, behavior, or person factor.

A solid corporate culture is the foundation from which employee safety motivation can emanate, but motivation doesn’t stop there. In addition to the corporate culture, there are several other influences that will impact an employee’s level of motivation, not only in terms of productivity and quality, but from the standpoint of safety as well.

There are various motivational influences in the workplace that, put together, can have dramatic effects on an employee’s productivity, and may ultimately determine whether an employee works in a safe or unsafe manner. Most employees desire acceptance, recognition, and self-respect in their jobs. If these types of needs have not been met, an employee’s primary focus might be on meeting these requirements first; working safely will be secondary.

Dr. Geller lists some examples of motivational influences that can take precedence over safety:

* An individual’s level of self worth.

* A secure work environment.

* Desire for achievement.

* Desire for recognition.

* How employees feel about their jobs in general.

A lack of motivation often centers around attitudinal problems, a lack of commitment, or some type of change in the workplace. Remember that, in addition to motivational influences, your level of motivation is sometimes dependent on factors such as the pressures of daily life, factors present on the job, the job itself, and the culture in which you work.

By addressing the various motivational influences, and by incorporating opportunities for leadership, added responsibility, input, choice, feedback, and recognition into the working environment, your employer can increase employee energy and enthusiasm. Your employer’s efforts to address these types of motivational factors can have a significant effect on employee motivation, and they can also have a significant impact on workplace productivity, quality, and safety.

One of the most important requirements for motivating employees to work more safely is that managers and supervisors must promote the importance of a safe working environment. If managers and supervisors are not motivated toward working safely, employees cannot be expected to be interested in, or to be enthusiastic about, new policies that focus on improving a company’s safety culture. In other words, managers and supervisors should lead by example. Dr. Geller notes the following key motivational points:

* Ask employees for their input on decisions that affect their job.

* Include morale-building meetings that acknowledge workplace success.

* Provide the tools necessary for employees to perform their work.

* Recognize personal needs.

* Provide employees with challenging tasks.

* Privately recognize people for good work.

* Foster a sense of community at your facility.

Observation and feedback is essential to changing behavior because behavior can only be improved when appropriate feedback is received. This feedback must support what is done well, and correct that which can be improved. The aim of the observation and feedback is to prevent injuries by being proactive. It’s easy to react when something bad happens; this process addresses what needs to be done before a mishap occurs.

E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, prescribes the ‘DO IT’ process. It begins with defining specific safe behaviors that are beneficial to increase and identifying specific at-risk behaviors that should decrease.

Dr. Geller’s process includes the following elements:

D – Define target behaviors, especially those that have the most impact on injury prevention, in terms that are observable to multiple observers.

O -Observe occurrences of target behaviors, keeping the subject anonymous but aware of your presence and motive, and record the observations. Checklists work well for this.

I – Intervene to change the frequency of the target behavior in desired directions; increase safe behavior and decrease at-risk behavior.

T – Test the impact of the intervention strategy by continuing to record occurrences of the target behavior.

D = Defining behaviors

Critical behaviors are those that need to be avoided or need to occur in order to prevent personal injury. When targeting critical behaviors to be defined, keep in mind that they should be specific, observable, objective, and naturalistic.

Specifically, critical behaviors are:

* At-risk behaviors that lead to serious injury or fatality;

* At-risk behaviors that could lead to serious injury or fatality;

* At-risk behaviors that lead to a large number of minor injuries or near misses;

* At-risk behaviors that could contribute to a large number of injuries because many people perform it; and

* Safe behaviors that need to occur consistently in order to prevent personal injury.

Defining behaviors will often involve safety specialists and management personnel, but it should always involve the workers themselves.

O = Observing behaviors

This is where the team observes each other in situations where the target behavior is relevant.

The safe or at-risk behaviors are then recorded and tracked daily. Then the percentage of safe behaviors are calculated and charted each week.

There are three rules that must be followed when observing:

1. Do not record the name of the person being observed.

2. Before observing, obtain permission from the person to be observed.

3. Intervene immediately whenever a person is observed performing or is about to perform an at-risk behavior that threatens his or her safety or health.

When observing, it is sometimes good to use a one-on-one coaching approach. However, it is best to give people time to watch the process work, and encourage them to join in when they are ready.

Make it clear that the coaching session is private and personal. Only the combined data will be shown to others.

The coaching process is designed to teach people how to avoid injuries, to help them practice safe behaviors, and to develop good habits. People may make a conscious effort to be safe during an observation, but in doing so, they are practicing the way to avoid an injury.

I = Intervening

When observations indicate that a particular behavior is not improving (or is not improving fast enough), the work team or steering committee designs an intervention to motivate beneficial change.

Through group discussion, the situation is analyzed to determine why at-risk behavior is occurring. However, it is important to not focus on the people. The aim is not to find fault with the people involved. The team then agrees on an intervention.

Sometimes a factor that motivates an at-risk behavior can be removed or altered, or an activator or consequence can be added. Remember to keep the feedback going, however, and ensure that it is specific, on

time, appropriate, and genuine – not insincere.

T = Testing the intervention

As soon as an intervention is implemented, the test phase of ‘DO IT’ has begun. If a target behavior does not improve after several weeks of intervention, the situation is analyzed again and another intervention designed.

Remember, ‘DO IT’ is an ongoing improvement process. When people reach their percent safe goal, they move on to another target, and then another. The process is always tested to see where weak links are located because there is always some room for improvement. Practice makes permanence; feedback makes perfect.


The impact of a behavior change can be evaluated objectively via Dr. Geller’s ‘DO IT’ process to increase the level of safety in an organization. When the ‘DO IT’ process is working, individuals are motivated to improve their own behavior because they want to help the entire team meet their performance goals.

The process is a team activity. Every individual who participates in the process is observed by other team members. However, individual performance is not the center of attention; the focus is on group performance. The whole idea is to get people working together and supporting each other in an effort to improve everyone’s behavior. Both observation and feedback processes are written directly to the viewpoint of the work teams or groups that your company defines for the implementation of behavior-based safety.

The principles of behavior-based safety can be used to develop a variety of safety tools. The behavior-based approach to safety is effective when applied to one-on-one and group coaching, injury investigation, education and training, ergonomics, evaluation, and the development of incentive/reward programs.

Dr. Geller notes that successful applications of behavior-based safety generally adhere to seven key principles. These principles serve as guidelines when developing a behavior-based tool for safety improvement (from awareness signs to motivational incentives). The principles are broad enough to encompass a wide range of practical operations, but they are narrow enough to guide the development of cost-effective procedures such as the observation and feedback process. These are a map or mission statement against which you can check your attempts to improve behaviors and attitudes in the workplace as well as in your home and community.

Dr. Geller lists these seven behavior-based principles as:

* Focus intervention on observable behavior.

* Look for external factors to understand and improve behavior.

* Direct with activators and motivate with consequences.

* Focus on positive consequences to motivate behavior.

* Apply the scientific method to improve intervention.

* Use theory to integrate information, not to limit possibilities.

* Design interventions with consideration of internal feelings and attitudes.

These principles should serve as guidelines when developing a behavior-based tool or method for safety improvement.

Behavior-based safety is a proactive approach to safety and health management. The process recognizes unsafe or at-risk behaviors as a frequent cause of both minor and serious injuries. The aim of this approach is to reduce the occurrence of at-risk behavior by modifying the behavior through observation, feedback, and positive interventions aimed at developing safe work habits.

When people take control of safety, they see safety and health performance improving, and they feel good about it because they know that they are making a real difference. They get a sense of accomplishment that helps keep them going. And, while most workers genuinely care about their safety, and the safety of those around them, they often don’t know how to show others that they care. Behavior-based safety can help teach workers how to act on their caring.

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