Last week, we looked at what Behaviour Based Safety Observations (BBSOs) are. However, we found that while we knew more about how BBSOs were conducted, we still had some questions about Behaviour Based Safety Programs overall. So we thought we'd do some digging and write a follow up post with some answers to our own questions. 

We're going to be really honest here: If you are going to try to implement a Behaviour Based Safety Program in your organization, odds are you might be met with some resistance from your employees. Why, you ask?

We'll try to break it down for you.


Behaviour Based Safety Programs have become a controversial option in the world of Occupational Health and Safety. You may remember that in the last article, we touched on the most common reasons that BBS programs fail, and that most of them related back to using Behaviour Based Safety Observations (BBSOs) as a tool for discipline and intimidation. The widespread nature of this issue has led to mistrust in the concept, and overall just given it a bad rap.

In fact, many unions are completely opposed to them.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is one of these unions. The following statement on their website indicates just how common the misuse of BBS is and how it can negatively impact workers and the overall workplace environment:

UFCW Canada opposes this type of so called Health and Safety program as this type of program also encourages workers to spy on their co-workers for working in an unsafe manner.
Rather than finding the cause on an accident or injury, the worker is blamed for not working in a safe manner, not wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) or instead of determining where an oil leak on the floor came from, blame the worker for not wearing the proper foot wear. These types of programs are implemented under various names, but their main goal is to save the company money, by not reporting injuries, accidents in order to lower their compensation rates.

Unfortunately, you can't blame them for being opposed to BBS since many companies are using them to lay blame on the workers as opposed to educating them on the proper procedures for their tasks or praising the tasks they completed safely.

What is the alternative?

Ok, so now that we know why not everyone has faith in BBS programs, let's have a look at what other options are out there.

  • Traditional safety programs: Considered a "reactive" approach to safety, traditional safety programs have a hard time delivering consistent improvement, often just keeping the status quo. Prevention methods are usually put in place after one of two scenarios:
  1. An incident takes place and procedures or policies are implemented or changed accordingly.
  2. An audit or inspection identifies a potential danger, and policies or procedures are put in place to minimize the chances of illness or injury.

This approach has lost popularity in recent years as most people search for a more proactive safety approach, that includes implementing safety measures before any incidents take place.

  • A Blended Approach: This seems to be the preferred method across OHS blogs. A blended safety system allows companies to take the best or most manageable parts of different safety systems and creating their own customized program. Jason Townsell explained in EHSToday:
In my opinion, workplaces that implement strictly BBS programs rely on too many variables (such as management support/involvement and employee trust) for the success of their respective programs. Like with most things, my experience has taught me that success often is found in the middle of a blended approach of the utilization BBS and traditional principles to establish a solid overall program.

In the grand scheme of OHS, it could be argued that any complete safety program consists of the same 6 elements, just presented in different ways. This suggests that it is management's approach and the overall presentation of the program that influences how involved and invested your workers will be. 


Is Behaviour Based Safety Right For You?

You probably have a pretty good idea by now of how you feel about BBS and whether or not it could work for your company. However, here are a few recommendations we have found:

  • Turnover is your enemy. The backbone of a successful BBS program is trust. Companies with high turnover (e.g. construction) tend to not see the benefit as quickly or consistently because workers don't have the opportunity to build trust among themselves or with their management team before they move on to the next job.
  • You've got trust issues. Many companies go through hard times, and it can affect the overall level of trust in the organization. If you are looking to make a big positive change, BBS might not be the best place to start. While it is a fantastic long term goal, a BBS program can't succeed in an environment where trust doesn't exist.
  • You need a quick fix. Behaviour Based Safety is all about changing your mindset, and that of your workers. This can't happen overnight. If you are in desperate need for something immediate, start elsewhere and work your way up to BBS.
  • You don't believe accidents are preventable. There are two schools of thought on workplace incidents: all accidents are preventable, and accidents happen. If you don't believe that you can prevent accidents from happening, there will be no drive to find hazards in work procedures and worker habits.
Whether you decide to go full speed ahead with a BBS program, or you simply want to incorporate certain elements into your current health and safety program, you should expect to be met with a little reluctance from your front line workers. It doesn't mean you are making a bad decision, it simply means that you are going to have to put in the time and effort to prove that you are doing Behaviour Based Safety the right way.

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