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Behavior-Based Safety Teams: Part 1

The foundation components of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) are well known: Leadership support and involvement, Steering Committee, Observers, Systematic Data collection and Analysis, and Feedback. The methods for organizing and administering these functional components vary broadly. Many companies adhere to a model acquired from one of the well-known consulting providers while others put together a home-grown model which usually excludes one or more of these key components. An example of the latter would be a company that puts together their own system which includes only observations without any special leadership training, an employee based steering committee, or a reliable data system.

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Incentives, Teams and Behavior-Based Safety

Incentivization of performance outcomes has been around for a long time. In the field of safety, it has proven to be problematic in some cases and disastrous in others. Gaming the safety data is associated with incentives, particularly financial incentives.  Often referred to as “pencil whipping,” early behavior based safety (BBS) processes were crippled by unreliable data. In that sense, the financial incentives contribute to unethical behavior.  Often the seductive nature of large dollar rewards has motivated employees to do much worse than this.

When dollars were associated with the number of behavioral observations or with decreases in Recordable Injuries, the data was often proven to be inaccurate. One of the key principles developed from 70 years of scientific research into the cause of human behavior states that our behavior is driven by its consequences – that is when we do something, we focus on whether it works for us or not. If we turn the knob on the door, does the door open – a consequence related to our intention, the reason we performed the behavior.

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Quality Professionals Discover Human Behavior

You may think I'm trying to be facetious with the title of this article, but you would be wrong. It is true; the emphasis on behavior in safety improvement efforts has crossed organizational lines and migrated into the realm of quality improvement. A quality professional somewhere noticed that focusing on safe behavior and unsafe behavior, defining each precisely so that everyone knew those behaviors were relative to their jobs, measuring the frequency of safe behaviors, and providing recognition for increases in safe behavior led to remarkable reductions in injury frequency.

That was the beginning. Then, he or she asked the most important question that has been posed to quality professionals in decades: "Isn't behavior important to implementing quality improvement initiatives and improving product quality?" Suddenly, an epiphany occurred; a realization of a fact too simple to even bother to deny: of course, behavior is an important element in quality—in many ways! Behavior is important in everything we do in an organization to fulfill our mission and reach our objectives.

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50 Years of Failed Initiatives: Why Behavior Based Safety and Other Initiatives Often Fail

Quality initiatives, safety initiatives, and organizational change initiatives of every description often fail. The reason – the initiatives fail to change employee behavior – the way employees do things. The underlying fallacy that prevents change is leadership's belief that developing and communicating new ways of doing things will be accepted and practiced by employees. Old ways of doing their jobs are supported by strong habits, skills, behavioral shortcuts, and behavioral efficiencies. Most "improvement" initiatives require historically effective behaviors to be cast aside and replaced by new ways of doing things that require learning, practice, mistakes, and repetitive practice.

New behavior requires new consequences – positive feedback and positive reinforcement – to ensure the behaviors become habits. The things employees do prior to a change initiative are a function of what that behavior provides for the employee. Protective safety equipment is often uncomfortable to wear and many prescribed safety behaviors are time consuming and require extra effort; so that behavior leads to some negatives for the employee. Performers often do not perform behaviors because the consequences to them are discomfort and effort. In that sense, there is a payoff for not performing the safe behaviors and doing something unsafe.

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