Posted on: October 5, 2023

What Is a Behavior-based Safety Program?

What Is a Behavior-based Safety Program?

Behavior-based safety approaches are a somewhat controversial tool in the occupational safety and health toolkit.

From a worker's perspective, it can become synonymous with scapegoating, but that's the sign of a poorly implemented program. From an administrative point of view, the lack of universal guidelines for behavior-based safety programs can make implementation a challenge, but they also mean the technique is flexible and can be adapted to your organization's needs.

Continue reading to uncover the core elements of a behavior-based safety program and how it can benefit your place of work.

What Is Behavior-Based Safety?

Behavior-based safety (BBS) is a proactive approach to increasing workplace safety by observing individual behavior, analyzing the consequences, and reinforcing desired safety behaviors.

The goal is to focus attention on the daily behavior of workers, but behavior-based safety is not about placing the responsibility and blame for workplace safety solely on employees. BBS involves acknowledging that people often work in poor conditions that force them to choose between working safely or taking shortcuts, then finding solutions to encourage safe behavior.

What Are the Characteristics of a Behavior-Based Safety Program?

A behavior-based safety program is characterized by four basic elements: observation, feedback, goals, and checklists.

Observation and feedback are the essence of a BBS program, but goals and checklists are essential to conducting behavior-based safety in a methodical and scientific way. Let's take them in chronological order.

Behavior-Based Safety Goals

You have to start your BBS program with a set of goals, preferably goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

Well-crafted goals will help you narrow your focus from "observe everything safety-related" into something more manageable. They'll also direct you toward a plan of action and set a deadline for completing the work.

Examples of behavioral-based safety goals might be:

  • Reduce observed hazardous behaviors by 10% over the course of the quarter
  • Getting workers to wear proper PPE correctly 98% of the time by the end of the year
  • Reduce recordable injury rates by 25% within 12 months

Behavior-Based Safety Checklists

Once you've set your goals, you should compile checklists of behaviors to observe.

Consider the specifics of your workplace, its protocols, its equipment, and the applicable OSHA standards when you build your checklists, but keep in mind that behaviors chosen for your checklist must be:

  • Observable (actions that can be seen or heard; thoughts or attitudes don't count)
  • Within the employee's direct control
  • Positive (described as something that should be done, not something to avoid)

You can get a jump start with behavior-based example checklists online. Just be sure to adapt or expand the list to be comprehensive and relevant.

Behavior-Based Safety Observations

When creating a behavior-based safety program, the employees chosen to be your observers should be trained in recognizing safe and unsafe behaviors, as well as offering proper feedback. You need to establish clear guidelines on the observation process and how to record what they see.

Observational periods should be announced so that employees are aware that they're going to be observed. Yes, this may change their behavior for a short period of time, but you want to avoid any negative perceptions of the process. In other words, you want to avoid making them feel like you're trying to catch them out or trap them. If the observation period is of a sufficient length, routine behaviors will become observable despite the advanced notice.

Behavior-based safety examples of observations include:

  • Employee handled [x] hazardous substance without gloves
  • Employee wore safety glasses improperly during use of [x] power tool
  • Employee climbed a ladder set up on uneven ground

Behavior-Based Safety Feedback

Corrective feedback is obviously a critical piece of a behavior-based safety program, but positive feedback is the cornerstone to encouraging safe behaviors. It provides reinforcement to individuals, calls everyone's attention to the desired behaviors, and creates a positive safety culture overall.

Regardless of the type, all feedback should:

  • Be directed at specific individuals
  • Describe specific behaviors
  • Focus objectively on the behavior, not the person
  • Include a description of the safe behavior and a short explanation of why the specifics matter

Examples of behavior-based feedback include:

  • Henry, thank you for moving those supplies out of the path. That's the kind of housekeeping that prevents people from tripping and falling.
  • Jackie, you were driving pretty fast when you took that corner, and you didn't use your horn. You could have hit someone. Next time, please slow down and use your horn to make sure everyone knows you're coming.

Does OSHA Require Behavior-Based Safety Training?

No, OSHA doesn't require behavior-based safety training.

However, a well-implemented BBS program can help businesses assess and identify safety hazards and enforce behavior-based corrective actions. A BBS approach also engages people at every level of the organization.

In all these ways, a behavior safety program can support OSHA recommendations and best practices.

On the other hand, measures like training and standard operating processes are considered administrative controls, and administrative controls are not considered adequate safety measures by themselves. Hazards must be addressed by elimination, substitution, or engineering controls first.

Since behavior-based controls largely focus on such administrative controls, BBS programs can't stand alone in order to achieve OSHA compliance.

OSHA Training Must Go Beyond Behavior

While behavior-based training can be a useful component to a safety training program, it's not OSHA compliant by itself.

Fundamentally, OSHA's training mandate says employers are required to train their employees in everything they need to know to do their job safely.

That's a tall order.

In practice, many OSHA standards have explicit training requirements, and they always require employers to go beyond behavior. Employees must be trained on the hazard itself. They have to learn how to recognize specific hazards, why they're dangerous, and the potential safety and health consequences, among other things.

To fully understand various hazards, workers often need concepts from biology, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines, and OSHA requires training to be provided in a language and manner that the employees will understand.

Online courses from an OSHA-authorized provider like us are often the easiest and surest way to meet these requirements. We have a full catalog of OSHA-compliant courses and over 20 years of experience providing efficient and effective safety training. The learning is self-paced, mobile-friendly, and available 24/7 for your convenience.

Get started today!