Behavior-based safety

Behavior-based safety

Behavior-based safety (BBS) is the ”application of science of behavior change to real world problems”. [Staff. “How Does Behavioral Safety work?” Cambridge Center for Behavior Studies. ] BBS “focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it, and then applies a research-supported intervention strategy to improve what people do”. [Geller, E. Scott (2004). “Behavior-based safety: a solution to injury prevention: behavior-based safety “empowers” employees and addresses the dynamics of injury prevention.” Risk & Insurance.15(12, 01 Oct) p 66] At its very core BBS is based on a larger scientific field called Organizational Behavior Analysis.Matthews, Grainne A. “Behavioral Safety from the Consumer’s Perspective: Determining Who Really Provides Behavior safety.” Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. ]

To be successful a BBS program must include all employees. This includes the CEO to the floor associates. To achieve changes in behavior a change in policy, proceduresand/or systems most assuredly will also need some change. Those changes cannot be done without buy-in and support from all involved in making those decisions.

BBS is not based on assumptions, personal feeling, and/or common knowledge. To be successful, the BBS program used must be based on scientific knowledge.

A good BBS program will consist of:
* Common goals — Both employee and managerial involvement in the process
* Definition of what is expected — Specifications of target behaviors derived form safety assessments [Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth. “Safe Behavior; Fewer Injuries.” Cambridge Center for Behavior Studies.]
*Observational data collection
*Decisions about how best to proceed based on those data
*Feedback to associates being observed

All of the BBS programs reviewed included multilevel teams. Some programs use them in the assessment phase, some in observation and some in review. Some had all three areas using multilevel teams.

Behavior based safety must also have attitude adjustment to be sustaining. It has been proven that “behavior influences attitude and attitude influences behavior”. [Geller, E. Scott (1998). "Working Safe: How to help people actively care for health and safety". Lewis Publishers] The goal should be small gains over and over again; continuous growth. BBS is not a quick fix. It is a commitment.

There are numerous programs on how to implement behavior-based safety programs. They vary in price, detail and commitment. But the goal is always the same: eliminate injury. A review Cooper, Dominic., (2007) Behavioral Safety Approaches: Which are the most effective. ] of all scientific publications on Behavior-Based safety since the mid 1970's to date shows that different approaches exert different effects. Focusing on workgroups, in static settings was demonstrated to be the most efficient at behavior change and injury reduction.


Behavior-based safety is a topic that has been around for a long time. BBS originated with the work of Herbert William Heinrich. Al-Hemoud, Ali M., Al-Asfoor, May M. (2006) “A behavior based safety approach at a Kuwait research institution.” "Journal of Safety Research", 37 (2) pp 2001-2006.] . In the 1930's, Heinrich, who worked for Traveler's Insurance Company, reviewed thousands of accident reports completed by supervisors and from these drew the conclusion that most accidents, illnesses and injuries in the workplace are directly attributable to "man-failures," or the unsafe actions of workers. Of the reports Heinrich reviewed, 73% classified the accidents as "man-failures;" Heinrich himself reclassified another 15% into that category, arriving at the still-cited finding that 88 percent of all accidents, injuries and illnesses are caused by worker errors. SEMCOSH Fact Sheet: Behavior Based Safety (2004)]

Heinrich’s data does not tell why the person did what they did to cause the accident, just that accident occurred. BBS programs delve into the act that cause the accident. It delves into the work place; environment, equipment, procedures and attitudes. (6)

Basic Organizational Behavior Analysis is what is used to identify the actions that put the associate in the risk position. Organizational Behavior Analysis has been done for 100 years. Directing the applied research to an organizational application specifically to safety has been going on for around 20 years. (3) Heinrich published work describing the results that he derived by evaluating the accidents from an extensive data base compiled by the insurance industry. He came to the conclusion that roughly 90% of all incidents are caused by human error. This conclusion became the foundation of what BBS has come to be today. BBS addresses the fact that there are additional reasons for injuries in the work place; environment, equipment, procedures and attitudes. Behavioral Science Technology (BST), pioneers in applying BBS processes, expanded on this work and identified the "working interface", the point where exposure to injury occurs.

Basic Organizational Behavior Analysis has been done for 100 years. Directing the applied research to an organizational application specifically to safety has been going on for around 20 years.

The phrase “behavior-based safety” (BBS) was coined by Dr. E. Scott Geller of Safety Performance Solutions in 1979. [Atkinson, William (2005). “Behavior-based safety.” "MC (Manufactured Concrete) Magazine" May/June. ] It then became the catch phrase of the safety systems industry.

Traditionally BBS has been used in industrial settings. A new generation has found success using BBS is office/lab settings as well.. More recent work has also applied this to MRSA in acute Intensive care wards in hospitals Cooper, M.D. Farmery, K, Johnson,M., et al, (2005). "Changing Personnel Behavior to Promote Quality Care Practices in an Intensive Care Unit", Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management,1,(4), 321-332. ] .

Dr. Luis López-Mena, Professor of Work Psychology at the University of Chile, has developed a BBS system, his PTAS Method (Psychological Techniques Applied to Safety). The PTAS Method has five steps:
* Identify target behavior
* Behavior measurement
* Functional analysis
* Intervention
* Evaluation and follow up

However, this approach is no different than most.

How Behavior-based Safety Works

1. Observation at siteBehavior-based Safety (BBS) process depends on site observation. Site observation include individual feedback, which is the most effective act in the BBS process. The observer meets the worker at site and introduces himself and the job he is going to do. There is no sneaking or spying in the process. The observer monitors the worker and notices his safe behaviors. He also, monitors the At-risk behaviors the worker is putting himself in.The observer starts his feedback by commending the safe behavior the worker was doing during his work. Then he explains, one by one, the At-risk behaviors the worker was doing. Then the observer asks the worker why he was putting himself at risk. For example, if the worker is welding a piece of metal and the sparks are flying in the workers direction. The observer would then ask the worker why he was not wearing protective clothing, like flame-retardant apron.They both discuss the at-risk behaviors until the worker agrees to try the suggested recommendation made by the observer. The worker might be aware of his at-risk behavior or maybe not. The worker may be doing the at-risk behavior for long time without hurting himself (negative consequences). The Observer’s job here is to highlight this behavior, then explains the associated negative consequences with this behavior. The above discussion and agreement is the individual feedback which helps the worker to change his behavior. It might look simple but we will see later on in this book how effective it is in the long run. This feedback is considered as a form of reward since:
* The worker got commendable comments on his safe behavior.
* The worker understood his at-risk behavior without being reprimanded at site or reported to his superiors for further penalties. At the end of the observation, the Observer would fill in a checklist with the safe and at-risk behaviors he noticed along with the date, time and location of the observations. The worker’s name or identification number are not noted in the checklist. Part of the check list can be used to summarize the observation process and the discussion. Workers comments and reasons for the at-risk behavior is recorded along with the suggested safe behavior. Recording this interaction is important for later detailed analysis by the site steering committee. See BBS business process model for further information

2. Data gathering and preliminary reports Observation checklists are gathered and entered in electronic database. Reports are generated for BBS steering committee to analyze and recommend practical solutions. These reports flag out trends of at-risk behaviors and in which location they are taking place.

3. Report analysis and recommendationThe steering committee is made up of high-level influential members and chaired by Management Representative. The committee has periodical meetings to discuss and analyze BBS report findings. The committee then produces a set of recommendations to tackle workers’ behavior. Some of the recommendations would be as simple as providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to workers in certain location, or increase work force in another location. Some of the recommendations require site modification or costly machinery. Such recommendations are sent to top management for necessary approvals.Implementing the recommendations would change the at-risk behaviors at the targeted location. Also the recommendations would eliminate hazards and risks caused by hardware or wrong design. Committee members devoted time and effort to discuss and analyze these reports in periodical meetings. These meetings are counted as part of the management commitment to the behavior process. [Malallah, S. (2008). CHANGING WORKERS’ BEHAVIOR: Research – Methodology – Implementation. Kuwait.]


Donald J. EckenfelderEckenfelder, Donald J.(2004) “Behavior Based safety: a model poisoned by the past; based on obsolete thinking, behavior based safety.” "Risk & Insurance" 15 (12) pg 65] stated that he felt that “BBS has virtues but lasted too long and cost too much.” He felt that it has been used incorrectly turning the process into a hindrance instead of a help. His analogy was “Water is essential to life: if we fill our lungs with it, it becomes poison.” Some think that BBS has outlived its usefulness. In fact, some feel that BBS “isolates safety instead of integrating it.” (But no examples were given.) It is felt that the continuous inspection is not causing attitude or behavior shift and once it is discontinued, all bad habits come back. (Again this could be true if the program doesn’t include addressing attitude.)

In response to such claims from Unions and others, Prof. Dominic Cooper ,'Cooper, M.D. (2003) Behavior Based Safety Still A Viable Strategy', 'Safety & Health' April, pp 46-48.] . of BSMS Inc published an article based on a survey of 247 companies implementing Behavior-based safety (or behavioral safety). This revealed that no evidence had been put forward to support these critical assertions. Rather, the evidence overwhelmingly points to positive outcomes. Interestingly, over 92 percent of respondents wanted to work in a company using Behavior-based safety. A recent update available at with 1404 responses further supports the usefulness of behavior-based safety in reducing injury causing incidents.


BBS is a term used by many without real understanding of what it is. [Wilson, Larry (2004). “Why BBS Works.” "Occupational Health and Safety" 73 (10, Oct) pg 78, Waco.] People make judgments on what they hear and not what is fact. Even people in the industry sometimes do not know what the process for BBS is.

Notes and references

Additional reading []

Krause, Thomas R. Leading With Safety. Hoboken, NJ, Wiley Publishing Company, 2005.

Cambridge Center for Behavior Studies. []

Dell, Geoff (1999). “Safe Place vs. Safe Person: A Dichotomy, or Is It?” "Safety Science Monitor" 3, Article 14, Special Addition.

Galloway, Shawn (2008) "Critical Questions to Improve Behavior Based Safety" Safety Culture Excellence. []

Geller E. S. The Psychology of Safety: How to Improve Behaviors and Attitudes on the Job. Radnor, PA, Chilton Book Company, 1996.

Hartford Loss Control Department (2002). “About Behavior-Based Safety Management.” "The Hartford Loss Control Tips, Technical Information Paper Series". TIPS S 520.019.

Lopez-Mena, L. (1989) Intervencion psicologica en la empresa (in spanish)Barcelona: Martinez Roca Ed. (see also [] )

Mathis, Terry (2005) "Lean Behavior-Based Safety - How the Process is Evolving to Survive in Today's Economy" Occupational Hazards. []

Quality Safety Edge. BSN 2007 (Behavioral Safety Now). []

Safety Culture Excellence. []

Vinas, Tonya (2002). “Best Practices – DuPont: Safety Starts at the Top.” 01 July. []

Wilson, Larry (2007) BEHAVIOR BASED SAFETY "The Construction Industry Experience" []

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