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  • Writer's pictureLeverage Safety

Addressing Observer Burnout in Behavior-Based Safety: Preventing Process Pitfalls

Updated: Jul 15

Implementing a behavior-based safety process is a significant achievement, but sustaining its success can be challenging. One common issue that can undermine the effectiveness of such initiatives is observer burnout. As observers become less motivated and engaged, the number of observations declines, impacting the overall process. In this article, we will explore the causes of observer burnout and provide potential solutions to prevent it from derailing your behavior-based safety efforts.

Understanding Observer Burnout

Observer burnout is frequently cited as the top challenge in behavior-based safety programs. Observers play a crucial role in collecting data, providing feedback, and driving safety improvement. A decline in the frequency and quality of observations is a clear sign of observer burnout, posing a significant threat to the core of behavior-based safety. But what leads to this burnout? Here are five common causes:

  1. Motivation: While behavior-based safety focuses on reinforcing safe behaviors among employees, the same approach is rarely applied to motivate and reinforce observers. Observers often receive little feedback on their performance and lack motivators or rewards for their contributions.

  2. Monotony: Observers' tasks can become monotonous, primarily involving checking off behaviors from a list. The repetitive nature of the job can make it dull and uninspiring, leading to decreased enthusiasm and engagement.

  3. Confrontation: Some programs require observers to provide on-the-spot feedback to workers, which can be challenging if workers are unresponsive or confrontational. Constant confrontations during observations can wear down observers' motivation over time.

  4. Mixed Signals: Observers are typically given specific assignments and assured that they will have time and support to carry out their tasks. However, conflicting priorities, such as production pressures or unclear safety process planning, can leave observers torn between competing demands, causing confusion and demotivation.

  5. Association: Many programs send observers out alone with minimal interaction between observers and others involved in the process. This lack of social connection fails to fulfill observers' basic need for association, which can lead to disengagement and burnout.

Preventing Observer Burnout

To address and prevent observer burnout, consider implementing the following solutions:

  1. Analyze the ABCs of Observations: Examine the antecedents and consequences of assigned observations. Remove negative consequences and introduce positive reinforcements. Create triggers and signals to remind observers to conduct their observations.

  2. Hold Observer Meetings: Provide regular feedback and support to observers through meetings with the steering team. Discuss their performance, address any obstacles they face, and reinforce expectations regarding the frequency and quality of observations.

  3. Establish a Backup System: Designate substitute observers to cover periods of high workload or when observers face difficulties. A backup system ensures that expectations remain high and observers are supported during challenging times.

  4. Foster Collaboration: Pair observers with each other or with steering team members periodically. This promotes support, enables discussions about challenges, and offers a reality check for observations conducted alone.

  5. Involve Observers in Problem Solving: Engage observers in the data-driven problem-solving process. Allow them to see how their gathered data contributes to decision-making and encourage them to propose solutions or gather ideas from the workforce.

  6. Focus on a Narrow Agenda: Rather than overwhelming observers with a long list of behaviors to monitor, narrow their focus to a few key behaviors at a time. This approach helps the workforce better understand and adopt new behaviors.

  7. Rotate Observers: Implement a systematic rotation plan where observers serve for a specific period (e.g., 6 to 12 months) before rotating. Use outgoing observers to train and mentor new observers or as backups when needed.

  8. Collaborate with Supervisors: Continuously work with supervisors to facilitate observations. Hold regular meetings to address concerns, problem-solve, and provide them with a better understanding of the process. Involve supervisors in support and decision-making, rebuilding their engagement over time.

Anticipate and Prevent Observer Burnout

To effectively manage observer burnout, it is essential to anticipate and prevent it from becoming a recurring issue in your behavior-based safety process. If you are planning to implement a new program, take these preventative measures from the outset. For existing programs experiencing burnout symptoms, quickly diagnose the issue and implement the necessary steps to preserve the integrity and sustainability of your safety efforts.

Observer burnout poses a significant threat to the success of behavior-based safety initiatives. By understanding the causes of burnout and implementing preventative measures, you can keep observers motivated, engaged, and committed to the process. Remember, observer burnout is a solvable challenge, and with proactive measures, you can maintain a robust and effective behavior-based safety program that drives continuous improvement and safeguards your workforce.

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