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Addressing Observer Burnout in Behavior-Based Safety

Updated: Dec 17, 2023


Implementing a behavior-based safety (BBS) program is a significant milestone in the oil and gas industry, where safety is paramount. However, maintaining the momentum of such a program is often challenging, particularly due to observer burnout. As a Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) professional, I recognize observers' critical role in these programs. In this article, I'll discuss the phenomenon of observer burnout in BBS initiatives and suggest strategies to counter it effectively.


Understanding Observer Burnout in BBS Programs

Observer burnout can significantly impact the efficacy of a BBS program. Observers are essential for gathering data and driving safety improvements, and when they become less motivated, the quantity and quality of observations can suffer. Let's explore the common causes:


  • Lack of Motivation: Observers may not receive sufficient feedback or acknowledgment for their efforts. In a role that demands constant vigilance, a lack of positive reinforcement can lead to diminished enthusiasm.

  • Task Monotony: The repetitive nature of observations can lead to boredom and disinterest, especially if observers feel their contributions aren't making a difference.

  • Confrontation Challenges: Dealing with uncooperative or confrontational workers during observations can be demoralizing, leading to stress and reluctance to perform the role.

  • Conflicting Priorities: Observers often juggle their regular job responsibilities with their BBS roles, which can lead to confusion and burnout if not managed properly.

  • Limited Social Interaction: Observing in isolation, without adequate interaction with other team members or observers, can lead to a sense of disconnection and demotivation.


Strategies to Prevent Observer Burnout

  • Review Observation Processes: Regularly assess the antecedents and consequences of observations. Eliminate negative consequences and introduce positive reinforcements to motivate observers.

  • Conduct Observer Meetings: Regular meetings can provide crucial support, enabling observers to discuss challenges and receive necessary feedback and encouragement.

  • Implement a Backup Observer System: A backup system can alleviate the pressure on primary observers, especially during periods of high workload.

  • Promote Collaboration Among Observers: Pairing observers or connecting them with the steering team can enhance their sense of belonging and provide an opportunity for shared learning and support.

  • Engage Observers in Problem-Solving: Involving observers in analyzing safety data and developing solutions can give them a sense of ownership and purpose.

  • Focus on Key Behaviors: Limit the scope of observations to a few critical behaviors at a time to prevent overwhelm and improve the effectiveness of the BBS program.

  • Rotate Observers Regularly: Introducing a rotation system can keep the role fresh and engaging while also expanding the pool of trained observers.

  • Work Closely with Supervisors: Supervisors play a vital role in facilitating the BBS process. Regular interactions can help address concerns and ensure the program's goals are aligned.


Addressing observer burnout is crucial to sustain the effectiveness of a BBS program in the oil and gas industry. By understanding its causes and implementing strategies to mitigate it, we can maintain the enthusiasm and engagement of observers. This proactive approach ensures the longevity and success of our safety efforts, ultimately contributing to a safer work environment. Remember, the key to a robust BBS program lies not just in its implementation but in its sustainable management and the continuous support of its participants.

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