Behaviour based safety:

Solution to sustainable improve OHS climate

Written by:

Katerina Rambure & Nuno Marques Peirico

Behind most of workplace incidents there is a human act (poor maintenance of equipment, misuse of PPE, hurry, etc.). Each activity is impacted by individual's behaviour, which can be to a certain extent affected by external factors. These external factors usually include national regulations, processes and methods, training and other tools, which are often requirements to make the work possible. Even these external factors are implemented everywhere, it does not assure Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) excellence. It is why there is a need to find an approach that may influence other precursors to unsafe behaviours (pressure from management, stress, gap of skills, etc.).

Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) is an effective concept based on the improvement of the external incomes (e.g. communication, environment, etc.) and elimination of barriers to safe behaviours which influence human’s perception of risk. The approach’s objective is to change individual’s behaviours using natural and unforced way. The principal instrument to reach this objective, is the observation process focusing on safe and unsafe behaviours followed by recognition and coaching.

Despite the title, Behaviour Based Safety includes the prevention of occupational health risks as well. Health risks are often neglected due to the length of time needed to effects to be observed. Health is intrinsic to the whole process of BBS, starting from the observation of the conditions that may cause occupational illnesses. By creating a safer working environment and by improving communication at work health and wellbeing issues are addressed.

BBS programs shall be implemented on a voluntary basis and in accordance with organisational culture maturity. Good example of safety culture scale is the Bradley curve where Behaviour based OHS approach is located in the highest “Interdependent” level.

The set up phase begins by promoting open communication on OHS issues between all levels of hierarchy on site. Open communication is at the core of whole BBS process. By giving the opportunity to the employees to express themselves about OHS, the subject is no longer exclusively on the shoulders of upper management but it becomes a shared responsibility of all employees (contractors included). In Behaviour Based Safety open communication is followed by regular observations of everyday activities. Observation phase is straightened by positive and motivating reinforcement (in case of safe behaviour) toward observee in order to increase the probability that the safe behaviour will be repeated. In case of unsafe behaviour, the observee is coached by the observer focusing on empathy instead of blaming and punishing. The reinforcement and coaching shall sustainably improve behaviour until the unsafe behaviours are fully replaced by safe behaviours.

To evaluate the efficiency of the process, it is necessary to measure the impact on the behavioural change. One example is by using leading indicators, such as the rate of unsafe behaviours & their correction measures, which could be translated as near-misses (and unsafe acts and unsafe conditions) report and investigation. There is a clear correlation between near-misses reported and accident rate frequency (Heinrich, 1931). Incidents tend to decline as the root causes of each near-miss are investigated and corrected. .

Ref: Industrial accident prevention by Herbert William Heinrich, 1931, McGraw-Hill book company, inc. edition, in English - 1st ed.

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