Behaviour-based approaches can improve firm's safety performance, says Norwich Union Risk Services

Article date: 18 August 2008

Implementing behaviour-based safety (BBS) programmes within firms will discourage unsafe actions amongst staff and improve safety performance within businesses, says Norwich Union Risk Services (NURS), part of Aviva.    

According to the Health & Safety Executive1, employee behaviour, either things staff do or fail to do, is a contributory factor in approximately 80% of accidents in the workplace.

Helen Toll, health and safety consultant for NURS, said: "There is significant evidence to demonstrate that BBS can lead to a reduction in accident rates, by as much as 85%, if implemented effectively.2

With the recent introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, businesses are increasingly looking to enhance their health and safety management practices to protect staff and avoid the risk of prosecution.

According to Toll, one way that businesses can do this is by identifying behaviours that contribute to accidents.

BBS is appropriate for businesses that already have good health and safety practices in place. However, it should not be used as a starting point for those without any measures in place at all, as research3 has shown that such programmes will only be effective in organisations which have reached a degree of safety culture maturity, reflected by the existence of robust health and safety management systems, management commitment, involvement and leadership in health and safety and significant levels of workforce participation.

"If a company has an effective strategy but perhaps health and safety performance has reached a plateau, BBS programmes, such as the one developed by NURS, are a useful, proactive tool that can enhance safety in the workplace even further," said Toll.

"The way this approach works is by focusing on the small percentage of unsafe actions that are responsible for a large part of the organisation's accidents.

"A team of ‘observers' from the workforce are trained to carry out regular safety observations, identifying and giving positive feedback when they see safe behaviours.  

"When risky behaviours are spotted, the observers seek to understand why their colleague chose to behave in an unsafe manner and identify any potential barriers that need to be removed. Workplace improvements can then be made to create an environment that encourages workers to always choose a safe option.

"Some examples that organisations may focus on include wearing protective clothing or using protective equipment, reporting near misses or hazards around the workplace, lifting correctly and safely isolating machinery before cleaning.

"In addition to the core benefit of decreasing workplace accidents, firms can improve their public image and industry reputation.  As well as staff development, as participants often build up improved communication skills and confidence as a result of their participation, it can also help staff morale and cooperation, improve productivity and reduced insurance premiums.  

"For businesses that want to go that extra mile to ensure the workplace is as safe as possible for employees, this is a useful tool, which can be very effective if carried out correctly and with buy-in from all levels."

NURS can work with businesses to develop a holistic BBS programme tailored to meet their needs and reflect their priorities, culture and existing safety management systems through a combination of audits, focus groups, questionnaires, and structured interviews.

For more information on the programme offered by NURS visit


For further information, please contact:
Sam Bramwell at Staniforth or 0161 919 8024/077381 96667 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684 225/ 07789 270 677.

Notes to editors

1Health and Safety Executive (1999). Reducing Error and Influencing Behaviour. HS(G) 48. HSE Books. ISBN  07176 2452 8.
2 Sulzer-Azaroff, B. and Austin, J. (2000). Does BBS Work? Professional Safety. American Society of Safety Engineers.
3 Health and Safety Executive (2000). Behaviour Modification to Improve Safety: a Literature Review. Offshore Technology Report 2000/003. HSE Books.

About Norwich Union Risk Services
Norwich Union Risk Services is the specialist risk management division of Norwich Union that is dedicated to helping UK businesses manage their risks in an effective way.

They achieve this through their national team of approximately 180 staff which includes:

  • Risk advisers and specialists - Who visit commercial properties across the UK to help identify risks and recommend dynamic and practical risk management solutions for Norwich Union's insured customers.
  • Safety consultants - Who provide expert health, safety and environmental training and consultancy services.

Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available on the Aviva internet press centre at


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