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The Importance of Data in Behavior-Based Safety Processes

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! 

Behavior-based safety processes are successful because they are based on direct observations of people doing their jobs. We don't have to know what people are thinking or understand their beliefs and attitudes. While beliefs and attitudes are surely important, we don't have direct access to them, so we can never truly understand what others think or believe. However, we can see what people do—the actions they take to ensure they are not injured and the actions they take that may put them at risk for injury.

A behavior-based safety process works by observing defined, observable behaviors and

  1. providing direct immediate feedback to increase the consistency of safe practices;
  2. systematically analyzing observation data across the site or department to pinpoint improvement opportunities and determine the obstacles getting in the way of people doing their jobs safely.

Once obstacles to safe behavior are determined, you can then create targeted solutions to remove them. To monitor the health of the BBS process and guide it to success, two main types of data must be gathered and evaluated.

Process Measures:

Your BBS process will not be successful if people do not participate in it. Thus, it is critical to monitor participation and, if numbers are low, determine why this is occurring and what can be done to improve it.

  • What proportion of the workforce is trained in how to do BBS observation and feedback?
  • What proportion of the workforce is participating in the BBS process?
  • How many observations are performed? Is this number trending up or down?
  • Which observers are high performers whose contributions to the BBS process should be recognized?

Safety Measures:

Behavior-based safety is evidence-based. Using observation data allows you to know what is getting in the way of people performing their jobs safely and to then create action plans to remove those obstacles. The data allow you to demonstrate if there is a change in the way people do things on the job because of your safety action plans.

  • Which behaviors are consistently performed safely, and conversely, which behaviors are not?
  • What comments do the observers make about behaviors of concern and what potential obstacles to the safe behavior do they indicate?
  • How are these obstacles dealt with by those managing the process? Which ones become action items and are they completed in a timely manner?
  • What is the trend for the behavior targeted for improvement? Did the safety action plan work?

By using your data there is no need to speculate, no need to take shots in the dark. The BBS process generates evidence we can see and measure. And the best part of all, it works!

BBS is evidence-based. You never need to guess about what works and what doesn’t. Just measure it and you’ll know!


How can my organization learn how to create behavioral safety action plans?

Unfortunately, when observing the unsafe behavior of others, many people have knee-jerk reactions about the unsafe performers such as “they don’t care” or “they don’t know the importance of safety.” These assumptions don’t get to the root cause of why an employee may be performing in a certain way. Pinpointing improvement targets and analyzing performance from a behavioral perspective requires training. Quality Safety Edge can help your company learn how to systematically analyze BBS data to determine the obstacles getting in the way of people performing their jobs safely and how to create behavioral safety action plans to remove those barriers.

To learn more about helping your organization use BBS data more effectively, contact Angelica Grindle.

How do I get this data?

Many organizations create a great process for collecting data, but then get stuck when determining how to manage that data.  BBS data is incredibly powerful but only if you analyze and use it correctly and systematically.

Why Not Use a Spreadsheet?

It sounds simple to collect and store data. Many organizations first try to do it with spreadsheets. They quickly discover that spreadsheets have limitations. Data can only be entered in the master copy of the spreadsheet and entering data accurately into the rows and columns of a spreadsheet can be tedious. While one worksheet might reference another, it is difficult to develop a system of interconnecting worksheets that compare to the power of a relational database. And spreadsheets can quickly become unworkable with too much data, so they only work optimally for smaller organizations. Also, the great wealth of information in the body of observations, including the comments of the observers, is difficult to extract from a spreadsheet.

Why Not Let the I.T. Department Build a System?

The first answer to that question has to do with “core competencies.” It takes a long time to develop a database schema that fully supports the BBS process, and an in-depth understanding of the BBS process is required for IT to even get started. Relational databases also have some of the same issues as spreadsheets in terms of ease of entering and extracting information. The IT department can develop user interfaces for data entry and report/chart generation to make their new system more usable, but this can be very expensive and may take the IT department months if not years to complete. Why reinvent a BBS data system when one has already been specifically designed for the BBS process?

Consider SOPA

SOPA is based on a powerful, relational database—Microsoft’s SQL Server 2017. This database schema is as complex as it needs to be with nearly 100 tables, each structured somewhat like a spreadsheet, but with a rich interconnection between tables. In addition, there is a large library of interfacing scripts making it easy to get data in and out of the database. Together, the scripts and database form an integrated package that ideally supports the BBS process.

The success of any BBS process rests on the data. To learn more or schedule a demo, contact Mike Johnson.

By Angelica Grindle, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Quality Safety Edge and Ken Stephens, Ph.D., President, Behavioral Safety Services