Behaviour Based Safety (BBS)

Posted: Aug. 15, 2019 • By Kevin Kohler

Behaviour Based Safety (BBS)

Isn’t BBS all about blaming worker behaviour for safety incidents?

Well it shouldn’t be, but there are negative perceptions associated with BBS systems. This comment from a labour organization typifies some of the feelings directed towards BBS systems:

“…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…”

As with any component of a safety system, poor communication, poor design or poor implementation might do more harm than good. Yet the potential for safety improvement is significant, as long as we can avoid the “blame game” and other pitfalls that have come to be associated with BBS systems.

Well then what is BBS?

BBS looks at the behaviour side of safety performance and focuses on observing and recording safe and unsafe behaviours in a standardized format. BBS attempts to determine the underlying (root) causes for safety behaviours and eliminate the causes of unsafe behaviours. Impartially observing and recording behaviours provides a valuable database on safety performance. This information can be analyzed to identify trends and ultimately provide enhancements to make work activities safer.

How might a BBS system work?

A BBS system is not a “silver bullet”, it is only one part of an effective health and safety management system. It can be rolled out in the following manner:

  • Employees and management agree together on what safe and unsafe specific, observable behaviours are;
  • A standard format for recording safety behaviours is agreed upon;
  • A process for observing and recording safety behaviours is agreed upon;
  • Safety observations are collected by trained supervisors and peers;
  • The safety observations collected are discussed immediately with those observed;
  • Any preliminary root causes for the behaviours both positive and negative are recorded;
  • Any immediate improvements that can eliminate negative behaviours are implemented;
  • The observation data is collected and analyzed to identify trends and recurring behaviours;
  • Root causes are established to eliminate the behaviours;
  • Findings and improvements proposed from the analysis are shared with all employees.

How do we avoid the pitfalls?

There are obvious issues associated with recording people’s behaviours as they go about their work. The keys to ensuring a successful BBS campaign include:

  • Always informing those being observed and obtaining their permission;
  • Maintaining confidentiality by not associating names to the observations;
  • Never using the system to assign blame or as discipline;
  • Maintaining an emphasis on determining the underlying organizational cause of the behaviour such as training, work design, or work load;
  • Providing immediate feedback on the observations with an equal emphasis on positive behaviours;
  • Using the results of the observations to provide safety improvements that benefit all employees.

The BBS system is designed to enhance the health and safety system that is in-place by looking at individual actions and determining what is working well, what is not working so well and the root causes for success and failure. Using other risk analysis tools is equally important in managing hazards that are complex, interrelated, and/or high impact but low frequency.

Best Practices

It is important to remember that the purpose of the BBS system is not to determine who is breaking company rules and punish them. There is a disciplinary system in place for this. The BBS system is used to identify the day-to-day behaviours contributing to, and detracting from safety, and to determine the organizational root causes that might be leading to these behaviours. In this way the BBS system can be used as a continuous improvement tool for our safety system.

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