For decades, behavior based safety has been the standard bearer in workplace performance improvement. Its ability to engage the organization around exposure reduction and empower workers to be proactive in their own safety, has helped transform cultures and bring about high levels of cooperation between management and the frontlines.
But for some organizations with old processes, it may seem that the halcyon days of behavior based safety are in the past. The sharp upturn in better safety performance and employee engagement that they initially experienced has leveled out, observation fatigue has set in, and leaders have become enamored with “the numbers” rather than maintaining focus on controlling exposures.
This has prompted some to ask if BBS is headed the way of so many past initiatives now collecting dust on the organizational scrapheap. Could this longstanding solution no longer be effective? Our answer is a resounding NO. When implemented effectively, BBS is as powerful as it’s ever been. And when done right, it will continue to be an integral part of any organization’s toolkit.
For many organizations, the problem isn’t that BBS is obsolete or has fallen out of pace with the business; it’s that leaders have lost focus on the details. They have forgotten what made the process work in the first place, and so they have struggled to keep it in pace as the rest of the business evolved.
If your BBS process is lagging behind, here are some questions to consider to help get things moving again:
Are your observation sheets reflecting the activities, behaviors, and exposures employees are actually engaged in? Often jobs change over time, bringing new tasks, equipment, and production goals. It’s important to work with observers to routinely update observations sheets, coordinate with employees on the objectives and details of the observation strategy, and ensure that new observers have the support they need to fully engage in the process.
Is there engagement in the process beyond observations? BBS isn’t just about the observation program. Effective behavior based safety includes safety contacts, education, celebrating successes, and getting people at every level involved in data analysis. Collecting a wide range of data and sharing it with people in safety meetings, staff meetings, and tailgate meetings helps them remember how critical observation data is to their safety and to the culture of the organization.
Are you focusing on quality rather than numbers? Older BBS processes tend to get lost in the numbers. The number of observations are important but they should not dominate leaders’ focus. Quality—both in employee conversations and the accuracy of data—is what matter most. Remember, the point is to identify barriers to safe performance and remove them—not just hit a monthly quota.
Are you customizing the process to meet departmental needs? Effective BBS processes adapt to meet specific challenges and demands that may not exist company-wide. Adapting to department and workgroup needs—while adhering to the principles of the BBS—promotes sustained engagement and the health of the process.
Behavior based safety is a performance improvement engine that can drive safety and the organization’s overall functioning. It’s a way to advance leadership capabilities, leverage frontline knowledge, and engage people in matters that concern them the most. But how effective the system is depends on its implementation and the leadership that guides it. BBS done right can never die.