Without question, behavioral based safety observation programs have dramatically improved workplace safety around the world. Often seen as the last line of defense in preventing an actual safety incident from occurring, behavioral based safety programs have arguably saved millions of people from getting injured or killed on the job.
DuPont is largely credited with implementing the first “structured” behavioral based safety observation program with their Safety Training Observation Program (STOP) which began in the 1980s and today there are hundreds of variations of safety observation programs in use worldwide. Although they each have their own unique characteristics (different tracking methods, conversation guidelines, etc.), they all follow the same basic principles:
Observation of a Job or Business Activity: With behavioral based safety observation programs, employees are either encouraged or (in some cases) required to conduct daily “audits” where they observe coworkers perform a specific job or activity. The intent of these audits or “workplace observations” is to make sure the job is being performed safely and in accordance with company policies and procedures. Most of these safety observation programs require an observation card or checklist to be completed with the findings of the job. These cards, which often outline specific questions to review with the job participants, are then turned in to the supervisors or safety representative for tracking.
Focus on Behavior: As the name implies, behavioral based safety observation programs focus on the “behavior” of the employee(s) to reinforce safe work practices and encourage them to identify and correct any unsafe behavior. There are many companies who administer their behavioral based safety programs as if the safety observations are a “traffic ticket” or “citation” for working unsafe. This is not a productive exercise. Safety observations cards or checklists should be written in such a way so as not to target the individual involved.
Trending Data: Another component of behavioral based safety programs is to trend unsafe actions and “near misses” on the job. For example, at the last facility I worked at we received a significant increase in the number of safety observation cards being turned in on people not wearing the correct gloves (PPE) for the specific job they were performing. After a little investigating, we discovered that our purchasing department had swapped over to a less comfortable glove with limited dexterity. Employees found the gloves hard to wear and were making the decision (either consciously or subconsciously) to not wear the gloves. Our behavioral based safety program allowed us to identify a safety issue and proactively address the problem before waiting for an actual incident to happen.
Act: The final element of most successful behavioral based safety programs is to act on any findings or lessons learned and share them with employees. Companies that have successfully implemented behavioral based safety programs typically share the safety observation trends through a wide variety of mediums including safety meetings, pre-job meetings, safety bulletin boards, company newsletters, etc. One initiative we’ve had a tremendous amount of success with is nominating safety observation cards for “Card of the Day” which are shared throughout the company (email, safety boards, etc.). Not only is it great recognition for the individual who wrote the observation card, it also provides great examples of how the process should work for other employees how are more reluctant to “get on board” with the process.
If you’re interested in implementing a behavioral based safety program within your business, leave a comment in the field below and we’d be happy to give you some advice and discuss what works and what doesn’t.