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What is behaviour-based safety?

Behaviour-based safety (BBS) approaches seek to do what all health and safety practices do and improve the safety performance of a company.

BBS uses behaviour modification techniques to highlight and reinforce safety critical behaviours while discouraging unsafe ones.

The importance of this approach is underlined by the fact that approximately 80 per cent of accidents in the workplace can be attributed in part to employee behaviour, in the form of actions or omissions.

Utilising a BBS programme allows health and safety officials to focus their efforts on the small percentage of unsafe behavioural practices that can increase the risk of accidents.

Behaviour modification defines a range of psychological interventions developed to modify the way people behave in order to make them more safety-conscious.

Techniques have been successfully applied in a variety of organisational settings, ranging from health care to education. Behaviour-based approaches to safety were first researched in the US in the 1970s and emerged in the UK in the late 1980s.

Research into the effectiveness of BBS programmes showed they definitely bring benefits for organisations that utilise them.

A study of 33 programmes by Sulzer-Azaroff and Austin in 2000 observed a reduction in injuries of between two and 85 per cent.

The Health and Safety Executive has also endorsed BBS programmes and praised their ability to make workplaces safer.

Additional benefits of implementing BBS measures include improved public image and industry reputation, staff development, improved productivity and reduced insurance premiums. Furthermore, it provides a tool for proactive health and safety management.

However, businesses wishing to implement such programmes must ensure they are committed to it and have a clearly-defined set of objectives.

Significant workforce participation is also necessary, while adequate resources must be provided in order to help employees follow the correct behavioural practices.

Organisations with an open and trusting culture will benefit most of all from BBS programmes, with workers likely to respond better where they feel they can offer their own views and receive praise for positive behavioural changes.

As with the implementation of any new scheme, it can take time for the benefits to manifest themselves, so business leaders should carefully manage expectations and set realistic targets for the reduction of accident statistics.

Long-running programmes need to be updated each year with new ideas in order to keep them fresh.

There are some barriers to implementation that companies need to contend with, include workforce concerns about 'spying' on co-workers and the danger that some will see it as another short-lived initiative without a long-term goal.

Businesses with multi-tiered management systems have to ensure there is a universally-agreeable notion of what behaviours should be targeted as inconsistencies will undermine BSS efforts.

To put a BBS programme into action, business leaders should be able to call on a core team of willing individuals to ensure the message gets across to the wider workforce and a system in place to measure how well the programme is working.

Areas of weakness need to be identified and amended as quickly as possible and, above all, businesses must be able to dedicate time and resources to carry out the initial assessment of safety culture, further training and data analysis.

Poor safety attitudes increase the potential for accidents. Our behavioural safety course takes you through the steps that promote positive behaviours, helping you reduce the likelihood of accidents. ADNFCR-2134-ID-800032186-ADNFCR