How would you respond to these statements?
I have read and heard numerous incorrect statements associated with
behavior-based safety. The more popular this approach becomes, the
more it is misrepresented. Unfortunately, this can lead to
behavior-based safety being misunderstood and misused, which hinders
its overall potential.
It's only common sense.
You know this is wrong. The principles and procedures of
behavior-based safety have been developed and verified through many
years of rigorous research. If a particular behavior-based safety
project doesn't work, the problem is not with the principles. It's how
the principles are translated for a particular work culture.
It's just a fad.
Misuse of behavior-based safety can lead to failure or less than
desired outcomes. If this happens, support for behavior-based safety
will wane. This is why it's so important to clear up the
misperceptions that cause misuses of behavior-based safety. If we
don't communicate what behavior-based safety is really all about, the
odds are greater that it will be considered a fad.
It's a magic bullet.
In fact, there is 'magic' involved. Behavior-based safety stimulates
and facilitates interdependent teamwork, which leads to innovation and
creative synergy. To watch this transformation at work is a magical
process. But this magic does not come easily nor quickly. It happens
with proper top-down support and bottom-up involvement. Expecting too
much too soon from behavior-based safety can result in disappointment
and a label of 'failure.'
Employees get the blame.
To talk about 'behavior' sounds threatening to many people, as in
"Let's talk about your behavior last night." But the names of the
individuals observed in a behavior-based coaching process are never
recorded. Behaviors of work groups are examined to identify
environmental or system factors that influence behavior. Then we
change those factors to improve behaviors.
It's only observation and feedback.
Behavior-based safety coaching depends on interpersonal observation
and feedback in order to succeed. But the principles of behavior-based
safety are applicable to many other aspects of safety performance,
including incident analysis, process evaluation, corrective action,
education and training, and the design of incentive/reward programs.
Management is off the hook.
If you implement behavior-based safety with this idea in mind you're
destined for failure. Even an observation and feedback process among
work teams will fail without proper management support. And the many
other applications of behavior-based safety require managers to be
actively involved. What management measures gets done, and what
management recognizes and rewards gets done well.
Environmental fixes aren't needed.
At first glance, behavior-based safety can appear to substitute a
behavioral- or human factors-approach for environmental or engineering
solutions. But anyone who has implemented this approach effectively
knows this couldn't be further from the truth. When at-risk behavior
is identified, the focus turns to finding environmental fixes that can
reduce or prevent it.
It's 'touchy-feely' psychology.
When you think of the human dynamics of safety, concepts like
'attitude,' 'intelligence,' 'emotion,' "motivation,' and 'self-esteem'
come to mind. We see and hear these words used in the media to refer
to psychology. Such 'touchy-feely' human factors are only studied
objectively and scientifically when they are defined according to
observable behavior. So behavior-based safety represents the objective
and reliable aspect of psychology. It's as close to engineering as any
human factors approach can be.
Attitude change must come first.
Some psychologists who work with the touchy-feely aspects of human
dynamics justify their efforts by claiming the focus of their study,
whether it's attitude, self-esteem, or intrinsic motivation, must
change before behavior can change. Such a notion is contrary to both
research and common sense.
For example, when would you feel the emotion of being 'scared' ?
before or after running from a large, wild animal? Research and common
sense tells us the behavior precedes the internal touchy-feely state.
First, you see the animal, next, you run, and then, you experience the
Likewise, when we contribute voluntarily to a successful process,
we adjust our 'attitude' to be consistent with our effort. We act
ourselves into the right attitude.
There's no bottom-line payoff.
If most injuries are caused in part by at-risk behavior, then,
reducing at-risk behavior must eventually lead to injury prevention
and financial benefits.
"But how long will it take," asks the plant manager, "and what's
the return on investment?"
The reply should be: "That depends on many factors, including your
current injury rate; your particular work system; your readiness to
implement a behavior-based safety process; and a bunch of touchy-feely
characteristics of your work culture like degree of trust, optimism,
belonging, interdependency, and systems thinking."
Money saved by reducing injuries and workers' compensation claims
is not the only bottom-line issue here. What about workers' morale,
their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment? What about workers'
perceived empowerment for safety ? the belief that they contribute to
preventing their friends and co-workers from getting hurt?
These are bottom-line feeling states that lead to continuous and
long-term improvement in safety, and in both the quality and quantity
of production. Yes, these are touchy-feely aspects of human
experience, but they do exist inside all of us and they do influence
our everyday behavior.
How do we improve these feeling states most effectively in an
organization? You know one answer to this important question is
behavior-based safety. When people are put in control of a process
that visibly contributes to preventing themselves and others from
getting hurt, they feel responsible. They go beyond the call of duty
to make the process work. Working together this way boosts morale,
trust, belonging, and optimism. Obviously, the individuals
experiencing these feelings benefit, as does the organization.
Culture change led by individual and group behavior does not come
quickly. It takes time, and a continuous commitment from everyone.
Management needs to give the kind of consistent support that
encourages employee involvement. Understanding the fallacies in the
ten common myths reviewed here is a start. That's the bottom-line
purpose for my first ISHN article in 1999. Happy New Year!
By E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., Senior Partner, Safety Performance
Solutions, and Professor of Psychology, Virginia Tech. Dr. Geller and
his partners at Safety Performance Solutions (SPS) help organizations
customize behavior-based safety techniques for optimal benefit. For
more information, call SPS at (540) 951-7233 (SAFE).