Seven Steps to Safer Behaviour

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Creating – and maintaining a safe work environment should be a top priority for organizations. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) Law, employers have a responsibility to create and maintain a safe workplace – and comply with all OSHA regulations. Organizations need to actively promote and foster a culture of safety year-round so that safety becomes a part of the enterprise’s DNA. The objective of a behaviour-based safety program is to change bad habits before they lead to incidents.

One of the most common denominators for organizational performance issues is behaviour, especially when it comes to safety. It is because of this that we often see repeated poor safety performance with no sustainable change in behaviour because the focus is on the action and not the behaviour that leads to the action. For example, an employee might take a safety risk because it could lead to the job being done faster. It is this focus that makes achieving desired changes in safety performance challenges.

For a behaviour-based safety program to succeed, seven steps need to occur:

Develop a program that meets the needs of the organization. If you are implementing a behaviour-based safety program it should be custom-tailored to fit your needs. No two organizations are alike; therefore listening to your organizations’ specific needs and challenges is of the utmost importance to ensure the success of the program.


Clearly, identifying the objectives of a behaviour-based program. The main objective of a successful behaviour-based program is to replace unsafe behaviours with safe habits. For this to occur, all parties must be able to apply and understand basic principals of behaviour changes effectively so that everyone is working towards the same goal.


Clearly identify the outcomes of a behaviour-based program. The primary goal of a behaviour-based program is for safe behaviour to become a habit. Many incidents arise from the repeated at-risk behaviour from employees. For example – an employee has worked unsafely for years without injury and therefore assumes there is no need to change their behaviour.


Applying the program to everyone in the company – not just front-line employees. Oftentimes these programs are primarily targeted at mechanics, yard staff and drivers only and they may grow to feel like they are the only ones putting to make the process work. For change to be sustainable, the program must all apply to management and office staff as well.


Training – Dedicate yourself. The same type of training should be applied to everyone. All parties need to be trained on the program’s core principals, objectives and outcomes. Desired behaviours, roles and responsibilities should all be clearly defined so that everyone can accept their role within the program. It should be noted that the training must focus on safe behaviour, not the process.


Application of positive reinforcement. Employees’ safe behaviour must be reinforced, as should managers and supervisors for supporting and reinforcing the employees’ safe behaviour. Risk-taking may result in saved time, effort and resources – this unsafe behaviour occurs and is maintained only because of the perceived positive results that follow. Therefore, management needs to focus on positively reinforcing safe work habits to replace unsafe work habits. A little training in how to effectively apply positive reinforcement goes a long way.


Make Safety Fun. While Safety is no game, one way to help incorporate safety into company culture is to make learning about safety fun. For example- have safety-themed trivia, quizzes or videos. Friendly competition including prizes and chances for company-wide recognition are great motivators. By adding a little fun, there is a greater chance that employees will remain involved, remember information and therefore prevent incidents.

Many organizations take the same approach where their behaviour-based safety program focuses on a specific action sequence: meetings about what to observe, detailed observation and data collection and more meetings with little focus on changing behaviour. A well-planned and designed program does not require significant amounts of time offline to complete training, complete paperwork, perform observations and attend meetings the program should not affect key performance indicators such as service and production.

Behaviour-based safety is more than observation. It is about understanding how and why people do the things that they do. When we have an understanding of how to modify behaviours and effectively reinforce desired safety behaviours, safety performance will improve. It is when we understand the objectives and outcomes of a behaviour-based program, apply positive reinforcement, implement the program equally throughout the organization, provide training, tailors the program to fit your organizations’ specific needs and make safety fun, an effective behaviour-based program can be achieved.

Can you think of any more factors of an effective behaviour-based safety program? Let us know in the comments below!

The Information Sources for this article can be found here and here.

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