Behavior Based Safety – The Basic Principles

Behavior Based Safety – The Basic Principles

Safety research over the last few decades has been consistent in showing that human error is the main contributing factor in most accidents in the workplace. Famous accidents like the Titanic and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy prove this when you review the investigation and the root cause. Knowing this, it would be a remiss of any company not to include a Behavior Based Safety program as part of their safety management program.

As every safety professional knows, the most important priority for any EHS program is to reduce workplace risk. However, one thing that seems to divide the safety community is the effectiveness of behavior-based safety programs.

BBS has gotten a bad name in some safety circles, however, when it’s done well and implemented correctly, it’s hard to argue with the positive results. A well-managed BBS program can significantly lower risks and help eliminate workplace incidents.

In this article, we are going to go through a few basic principles to help you build a BBS that will stand the test of time and get the results you need.

The Benefits of Behavior Based Safety

A culture of Behavior Based Safety will help focus an employee’s attention and daily actions. It will help a company observe and measure the behaviors and attitudes that increase risk and provide vital feedback to encourage change.

Having a robust and well-managed BBS, a company can benefit from the following:

  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Improved employee health and well-being
  • Reduced costs (medical/absenteeism
  • Reduced or eliminated cost of compensation claims
  • Better employee retention rates
  • Improved safety awareness
  • Improved safety practices
  • Reduced accident/incident rates

Basic Principles:

  • buy-in – As with any safety program, the success will depend on the buy-in and commitment from management and front-line employees. Commitment from all levels is critical. Without everyone aligned with the same goals, a BBS initiative will fail. From the beginning, at the planning stage, it would be beneficial to create a team of employees already familiar with behavior-based safety to help you design a program that will succeed.
  • Collect Data – EHS departments collect a lot of data, most of it critical, yet a lot of it goes unused. Ensure that you review and analyze all data that is collected during any safety inspections or audits. This will help to determine which tasks and jobs are at the highest risk. Analysis of data will help you to prioritize the departments/areas that need the most improvement and highlight new areas to investigate further.
  • Create a critical Behavior Checklist – The data review should help you identify the high-risk behaviors that have contributed to historic incidents. From this, you should compile a checklist that will detail the behaviors needed to complete specific tasks safely. These checklists can then be used during observations to record safe and unsafe behaviours.
  • Record and measure behavior – Create an easy to use measurement system to effectively track and calculate the frequency of both safe and risky actions that employees take while carrying out behavior-based observations.
  • Conduct Behavioral Observations – Select a team of employees that will conduct your observations. They could be members of your safety committee or other safety teams. It helps to have people from different areas observe tasks they may not be familiar with, as they may spot things that someone who works in the area does all the time. Decide on the frequency, they can be monthly, weekly or daily, based on how high-risk the work is. It is important that the observer records positive behavior as well as risky behavior and gives feedback on areas of improvement.
  • Review observationsAfter the observation has been completed, it is important that the observer gives feedback to the employee and reviews their behavior in detail. Feedback should cover both positive behavior and those that are of concern. Make it a two-way conversation and take on board the reasons why the employee may be working in an unsafe way, then you can try and find a safer way.
  • Leverage your dataThis is the important part! Don’t do all the hard work and leave the data you recorded to go to waste! Review the data you have collected and create actions against it to mitigate future risks. Actions should include addressing and eliminating at-risk behaviors by promoting new, safe behaviors. Your data should also help with your overall safety program’s continuous improvement goals.


Behavior Based Safety is not a quick fix or cure, it is however a positive addition to an overall safety management program. It does however come with its own challenges. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Long term employees or employees who are overconfident and complacent may require additional instructions and incentives to help change their behavior.
  • BBS is an evolving process and it is important to keep in mind that results may not be immediate, changing behavior and culture can take time.
  • Communicate progress to help ensure all levels within the company remain committed to the BBS culture.

BBS programs have been successful in reducing accident rates across many industries over time. It is an innovative solution for producing results that other safety programs may struggle to deliver. Organizations can be confident that permanent safety improvements can be achieved through cultural change.

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