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BBSO (Behavior based Safety Observations): the Secret Ingredient to Safety Management Success

Behavior Based Safety Observations-ERA_EnvironmentalBehavior Based Safety Observations (BBSOs) are recorded observations to improve worker safety and reduce risk. BBSOs typically involve managers and other appointed observers watching tasks and operations while making notes and suggestions to improve safety. Additionally, workers can also submit BBSOs based on risks they see while performing their work. Conducting BBSOs is a great way to learn how your workers are operating on the floor and the potential hazards that exist on-site. Beyond taking a comprehensive look at worker safety, BBSOs examine the work habits, environment, and efficacy of training processes.

Why is Behavior Based Safety Important?

Very seldom do employees work in an unsafe method on purpose. Generally speaking, accidents and mistakes are the result of unsafe work habits – those unconscious errors and shortcuts all humans fall into over time. A worker will usually act “on their best behavior” and perform to the best of their trained ability during a formal audit, making it tough for safety managers to locate and pre-empt causes of safety issues. This is where Behavior-Based Safety management principles play a key role in identifying unsafe habits – doing a BBSO for a process or task is less formal than a full safety audit and is more likely to reveal bad habits in the workforce.

Habits are a powerful force in the workplace and can be a subconscious driver of either productivity or an unsafe environment. If left unchecked, bad habits can spread like wildfire from one worker to another. Fortunately, frequent observations curb unsafe habits from becoming too widespread. BBSO programs are meant to make safe behavior habitual throughout the facility, operating under the guiding principle that the safest procedures must be the only procedures in practice to reduce the occurrence of incidents on-site.

Initiating a discussion among workers about best work practices and improving work habits can contribute to a stronger safety culture and help make them aware of their own unsafe habits. Feedback from workers after observations are conducted help managers have a clearer picture of challenges and other factors to consider in an effort to make safe behavior easier.

  • Behavior based safety addresses the subconscious, harder to stifle root causes of incidents.
  • Behavior based safety programs can feel less formal and therefore can get employee buy-in more easily than a strict auditing schedule which can feel like you're looking for ways to punish mistakes.
  • By observing and correcting habits, you're focusing on preventing incidents, not just responding to them. 
  • Making employees aware of habits helps them with self-improvement rather than having changes forced down from management. 

What is a Behavior Based Safety Program?

A behavior based safety program is essentially about having a formal system in place to track, measure, and respond to safety observations made within your organization. 

When an observation is made, it should be captured in a standardized manner and stored somewhere safety managers can read and assess it. For example, say an employee notices an unsafe behavior from a peer - if you have a BBSO program in place, that employee should have access to some type of form they can quickly fill out while the data is fresh and a method of getting that form in front of someone with the ability to follow up.

While this can be as simple as a paper checklist and anonymous drop-off box, you'll get better employee engagement and better quality data if you use a more sophisticated approach. For example, if you provide employees with a simple mobile app or electronic form they can access during a break you'll capture data more efficiently and employees will be more likely to participate. 

The second part of a Behavior Based Safety Program is that you need a method of analyzing and acting on data generated in your BBSO submissions. In some cases this can mean KPIs and charts detailing common factors in reports (like common incorrect behaviors around a particular process which can indicate retraining is needed). 

Watch the short video below for a summary on the key elements of a BBSO safety management program:

BBSO Software (v3)

BBSOs Help Improve the Work Environment

Poor working conditions can occasionally be overlooked by workers and managers. Workers may be too busy or simply forget to notify managers about the specifics of the unsafe working conditions. Behavior-Based safety is also about taking time to check your blind spots. For example, a BBSO-appointed observer may observe that worker safety can be improved with a few adjustments—like improved lighting or a safety ladder. While an observer is watching workers work, he or she might notice the potential danger of a tool or screw falling below through floor grating and hitting a passerby on the head. From that observation, safety tape that sections off an area prone to falling screws or tools is an example of how BBSOs can create new safety measures.

Workplace safety requires a safe environment that supports proper workplace behavior. Adding additional safety equipment like barricades to section off hazards, safety mirrors for a clear view of blind areas, and steel bollards to protect doorways, corners, and industrial equipment and are simple improvements that can be made to the work environment after an observation. BBSOs examine worker behavior and work conditions—ensuring that workers are less incident prone by removing obstacles that impede safety and adding equipment to support safety measures.

How Behavior Based Safety Can Improve Training Management

Recorded BBSO findings gauge the overall success of training by measuring the amount of training practices and techniques used on the job. If your training stuck with your team, you should see a decrease in the number of BBSOs logged regarding that particular training topic. This is a helpful way of measuring if your training had an impact.

But perhaps more importantly, a safety observation can also be used in the moment as a learning and re-training experience. Say for example you observe a team member not wearing a piece of PPE properly (or at all).  In the event of unsafe behavior taking place, the observer should stop the worker and inform them of the proper safety behavior. Workers can easily forget to wear safety gloves or safety goggles, but workers must be reminded that correct safety procedures must be followed. But treat this like a learning opportunity rather than an admonishment: try asking questions to prompt them to recall training such as “Why aren’t you wearing your safety gloves?”. This simple observation technique can provide observers with valuable feedback to determine if the safety program has a gap in practice or training. A situation where workers are knowingly avoiding safety measures is different than workers not being properly trained and informed.

Companies are required by OSHA to provide workers with:

3 Golden Rules of OSHA-1

  • A safety program including work rules, training, and equipment designed to prevent the violation.
  • Adequate communication of these rules to employees.
  • Enforcement in official safety procedure for safety programs.

Trainings are the heart of workplace safety, and BBSOs represent the careful monitoring of worker behavior to monitor the efficacy of trainings. The findings of observations help Health and Safety managers improve the current safety plan to develop a comprehensive plan for the continual improvement of safety trainings.

Why Do Behavior Based Safety Programs Fail?

It is important to emphasize that BBSOs are only meant to help workers and are not punitive measures. Your goal is to break unsafe habits by raising awareness of them, not punish employees for having picked up those bad habits. As a company, safety observations demonstrate dedication to compliance and devotion to the safety of all workers.

The reason that behavior based safety programs fail, even if you're doing Behavior-based safety observations religiously and correctly is because of your safety culture. A BBSO system can very easily be interpreted as a way to tattle on coworkers or to snoop on employees - for this reason upper management must make it very clear that implementing a BBSO program is about working together to improve safety with an emphasis on prevention.

  • People at all levels of your organization should participate in the BBSO program to help develop a safety culture that includes everyone.
  • Find a balance between transparency and privacy - the actions and findings of BBSOs are only valuable when shared and acted upon, but no one should feel personally targeted. ERA recommends using graphical reports to communicate the essence of BBSOs (like which facilities or teams have more incident near misses) without having to disclose specific/personal information. 
  • Act on Behavior Based Safety Observations - if you just collect data and never make improvements that your team can notice and appreciate, you'll lose engagement in the entire system. Your employees are putting trust in you to protect their safety using their buy-in, so don't take that for granted. 

Summary: Why BBSOs are Effective

BBSOs analyze workplace habits, examine the workplace environment, and determine strategies and practical solutions to improve safety through training. We suggest Health and Safety leaders measure the success of their current safety program and make necessary procedural changes from observation findings. Behavior-based safety is also built on feedback from workers and managers. These exchanges show managers the real-world application of training procedures and areas needing improvement. With the help of a safety plan that is flexible and adaptive to adjust to the many hazards that are in the field, BBSOs are an effective tool for workplace safety. They ensure that workers return home 100% safe and injury-free.

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This post was written by Carla Samuel

Carla Samuel is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.