Behavior-based safety: a solution to injury prevention: behavior-based safety “empowers” employees and addresses the dynamics of injury prevention
E. Scott Geller
Imagine a workplace where everyone feels empowered to eliminate the environmental hazards within their domain of influence and report those hazards they cannot control themselves. Imagine workers who regularly coach each other regarding the occurrence of safe and at-risk behavior. Imagine employees who use behavioral checklists to observe one another’s work practices and then share the results of these systematic behavioral observations in one-to-one “actively-caring” conversations.
This constructive feedback session includes a presentation of the safe and at-risk behavior observed, as well as a list of workplace conditions (including management factors) that may encourage at-risk behavior or hinder safe behavior.
No directive for change is given in these peer-to-peer coaching conversations. The person observed is merely shown the results of the observation session, and given an opportunity to explore conditions that may influence at-risk behavior. The observation checklists of a work team are turned in to a designated location. They include the name of only the observers. Groups of cards are compiled, analyzed, and “percent safe scores” are graphed for group feedback. Then, the safety-related concerns and suggestions written on the cards are summarized in reports to relevant work teams and management personnel.
Would this scenario prevent occupational injuries? I hope your common sense says, “Yes.” Actually, there is considerable research and real-world outcome statistics to support this answer, thereby supporting the power of behavior-based safety.
The following principles define behavior-based safety and serve as the foundation for addressing the human dynamics of injury prevention.
The behavior-based safety approach always targets specific behavior to support, increase, or decrease. In other words, behavior-based safety focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it, and then applies a research-supported intervention strategy to improve what people do. Obviously, we do what we do because of factors in both our external and internal worlds. However, given the difficulty in objectively defining internal predispositions, it is far more cost-effective to identify external workplace conditions that influence behavior and to change these appropriately when behavior change is called for.
Activators (or signals preceding behavior) are only as powerful as the consequences supporting them. This principle is used to design interventions for improving behavior at individual, group and organizational levels.
People can be threatened to do the right thing with negative consequences. This might influence behavior, but it also activates the mindset of working to avoid failure. The behavior-based safety approach advocates the use of positive consequences to initiate and/or support behavior, thereby promoting an achievement-oriented or success-seeking perspective.
People feel better, specifically more free and in control, when working to achieve positive consequences than when working to avoid negative consequences.
E. SCOTT GELLER is professor and director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech. He is also a senior partner with the consulting firm of Safety Performance Solutions Inc.
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