Everything you need to know about behaviour-based safety

Written and published by the British Safety Council, India on 17 Sept 2020.

A leading cause of accidents in the workplace is unsafe employee behaviour. To improve workplace safety, organisations need to bring about a behavioural change in employees, in addition to providing them with the equipment and environment that are safe to begin with. Taking a behaviour-based safety approach is among the most effective ways of developing a safe workplace culture.

What is behaviour-based safety?

Behaviour-based safety approach involves understanding the behaviour of employees at the workplace, and why they behave in a certain way to develop solutions that can bring about a positive change in employee behaviour, thereby, increasing workplace safety.

Behaviour-based safety consists of three major parts. Collectively, they form what is called the ‘ABC model’.

What is the ABC model of behaviour-based safety?

The ABC model is a way to evaluate employee behaviour at the workplace and consists of three elements: Activators or Antecedents, Behaviour, and Consequences. Let’s have a look at each of these.

Activators

Activators are things that prompt employees to act/behave in a particular manner in the workplace. They can be a person, place, thing, or an event that gets the behaviour started. Behaviour-based safety attempts to use as many antecedents as possible to modify employee behaviour as per the desired outcomes. Activators, however, can be used only to prompt the desired behaviour, not enforce it.

Behaviour

Behaviour is the visible action of the employee at the workplace. Behaviour can be safe and unsafe. Behaviour-based safety involves observing both types of behaviours to develop solutions that encourage positive behaviour.

Consequences

Consequences are events that follow behaviour. They, too, can be positive or negative depending on the preceding behaviour. Consequences influence the future behaviour of the employees. Behaviour-based safety aims at improving positive consequences which in turn can improve safe, positive behaviour at the organisation.

What are the benefits of a behaviour-based safety?

Behaviour-based safety is aimed at bringing permanent positive behavioural change in employees to develop a safe work culture. In addition to improving workplace safety, it offers various other benefits to organisations. Let’s have a look at some of the benefits of behaviour-based safety.

Improves workplace safety

A behaviour-based safety approach brings about long-lasting behavioural changes in employees. Safe behavioural practices become a habit and an important part of their life. It reflects not only in their professional life but in their personal lives as well.

Behaviour-based safety focuses on positive reinforcement practices that offer a reward for good behaviour. Such an approach encourages employees to develop and follow safe practices at the workplace, in return for rewards. Employees constantly strive to put their best behaviour forward. This results in employees being highly precautious at every task at the workplace. Thus, the overall workplace safety standard is significantly increased with behaviour-based safety.

Encourages employee collaboration

Behaviour-based safety is a collective effort which involves observing the behaviour of other employees. Employees look out for each other and notify others of unsafe behaviour. This not only improves workplace safety but also improves employee communication and collaboration.

A behaviour-based safety approach also Involves active participation from every member of the organisation, including top management. It helps remove the barriers between top management and other members of the organisation. With open communication and collaboration, organisations get a clear view of what’s working and what’s not. They can then collectively and openly decide the steps to be taken to improve workplace safety.

Reduces costs associated with accidents

With behaviour-based safety, the direct and indirect costs related to workplace accidents can be saved. Organisations can end up saving finances related to insurance, treatment of injured employees, and other workplace hazard compensation. Additionally, they can also save indirect costs such as the lost working hours and time required to hire new employees in case of workplace safety lapses.

What are the challenges in implementing behaviour-based safety?

Organisations need to consider the drawbacks of a behaviour-based programme before implementing it to ensure successful implementation. Analysing the challenges can help organisations better plan, prepare, and implement a behaviour-based approach at the workplace. The two major challenges with a behaviour-based approach are:

They are difficult to maintain

Behaviour-based safety needs active support and participation of every employee of the organisation. Getting the support and participation from the top management can get difficult, in most cases. Similarly, behaviour-based safety involves continuous monitoring of employee behaviour which can get challenging after a time. Thus, depending on the organisation, behaviour-based safety can be easy or difficult to maintain.

They blame employees for safety hazards (inadvertently)

Behaviour-based safety is based on the principle that accidents at the workplace generally occur due to employee negligence and unsafe behaviour. This inadvertently puts the blame directly on the employee who might have caused a safety lapse. It can lead to employees feeling discouraged, and they might stop participating in safety programmes at the workplace. Since the success of a behaviour-based safety approach is mostly dependent on employee participation, the programme can fail if employees aren’t motivated to participate in the safety programme.

The cons of behaviour-based safety have more to do with the organisation than the approach itself. For instance, the difficulty encountered with maintaining a behaviour-based safety programme can be mitigated easily by proper planning according to the scale of the organisation. Similarly, most of the unsafe employee behaviour can be attributed to various factors such as the organisation’s infrastructure, employee job position, and the work environment. Certain organisations might not face a single challenge with behaviour-based safety depending on their planning and preparation before the implementation of the programme.

The benefits of behaviour-based safety with respect to workplace safety are undeniable. Organisations should, therefore, try implementing a behaviour-based safety approach to improve workplace safety and reap other benefits associated with it. However, as mentioned earlier, organisations need careful understanding, planning and implementation to make behaviour-based safety a success. If you need support with behaviour-based safety for your organisation, you can always seek the services of reputed, professional occupational health and safety experts such as the British Safety Council. We provide behavioural safety consultancy services that can help enhance your organisation’s health and safety culture.