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  • Writer's pictureLeverage Safety

Adaptation for Modern Challenges

Updated: Jul 19

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) has been a successful intervention in reducing accidents, but its future is at stake. In today's lean manufacturing and downsizing climate, BBS faces challenges that require significant changes for it to survive and thrive. The current methodology, characterized by high costs and resource-intensive processes, makes it impractical for many organizations. To remain relevant in the modern business world, Behavior-Based Safety must evolve in several key ways. Let's explore these necessary changes and their potential impact.

Embracing Lean Principles in Behavior-Based Safety

One major obstacle for organizations adopting BBS is the substantial investment of both internal and external resources. The training requirements alone can amount to thousands of work hours. Traditional BBS processes involve steering committees or teams that undergo extensive training and workshops, along with observers selected from the workforce. Observers often spend significant time away from their regular duties, sometimes even working overtime to complete their observations.

However, experimental sites have demonstrated that Behavior-Based Safety can achieve dramatic results with fewer resources. To make BBS leaner and more efficient, organizations can consider the following strategies:

  1. Downsizing or replacing leadership teams/committees with facilitators.

  2. Optimizing observer schedules to perform observations in larger blocks with fewer observers, reducing preparation and observation trip time.

  3. Focusing checklists on essential behaviors or precautions, simplifying the observation process.

  4. Separating feedback from observations or limiting feedback to save time.

By implementing these lean strategies, organizations can achieve the desired safety outcomes while minimizing the strain on their workforce.

Building Union Support for Behavior-Based Safety

Behavior-Based Safety has faced criticism from unions, often seen as a blame-oriented approach that disregards management's responsibility in safety leadership. To gain union support, BBS processes must shift their focus from fault-finding to fact-finding. This can be accomplished through various techniques:

  1. Removing behaviors from checklists that overlap with safety rules and procedures, ensuring that the process is non-punitive.

  2. Decoupling observations from feedback and using observation data for measurement purposes only. Salaried observers can be employed to eliminate concerns about union members spying on their peers.

  3. Ensuring that site management views identified and prioritized items from hourly team members as opportunities for improvement, not as means to assign blame.

  4. Broadening the scope of observations to include identifying unsafe conditions alongside concerning behaviors.

These union-friendly adaptations foster collaboration and create an inclusive environment that addresses safety concerns without alienating workers.

Enhancing Professionalism in Behavior-Based Safety

One of the limitations of traditional BBS lies in relying on employee teams/committees to analyze observation data and solve safety problems. These teams often lack expertise in data analysis and struggle to accurately identify and prioritize issues. Furthermore, employees may hesitate to approach managers with identified problems, hindering effective problem-solving.

Innovative BBS approaches advocate for expert analysis of observation data by individuals trained in data analysis and statistics. This ensures that issues are accurately identified and distributed to the appropriate levels for resolution. By enhancing data analysis capabilities, organizations can uncover systemic issues, unsafe conditions, training gaps, and cultural obstacles that may otherwise go unnoticed. This shift toward professionalism also extends to observation and feedback, where expertise is essential for driving meaningful change.

Incorporating True Safety Leadership into Behavior-Based Safety

Behavior-Based Safety has traditionally sought to transform safety culture by encouraging self-direction and minimizing management intervention. However, this approach can create a divide between leaders and workers, often resulting in the formation of exclusive cliques within the organization. Managers may feel their influence on safety priorities diminish, hindering the overall effectiveness of the process.

To overcome this challenge, organizations must foster true safety leadership that involves all levels of the organization. Leaders should set goals and provide direction, while workers utilize their expertise to identify safer ways to achieve organizational objectives. Integrated safety efforts that promote collaboration at all levels are crucial. Acknowledging the importance of leadership within BBS processes is a vital step toward aligning the process with organizational objectives.

Revitalize Your Behavior-Based Safety Process

Organizations considering implementing Behavior-Based Safety should explore alternatives and avoid adhering strictly to traditional approaches. Innovative adaptations can make BBS viable for sites where the conventional model may not work. For those already using BBS, it's essential to critically evaluate and streamline existing processes. By incorporating lean principles, building union support, enhancing professionalism, and emphasizing true safety leadership, organizations can ensure their Behavior-Based Safety process remains effective, efficient, and aligned with the broader safety efforts. The journey to revitalize BBS is ongoing, but with the right adaptations, it can continue to thrive in the modern business landscape.

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