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Behavioural safety practices in the workplace

Workplace health and safety is influenced by a variety of factors, but the majority of accidents can be attributed, at least in part, to employee behaviour.

In fact, the Health and Safety Executive estimates that approximately 80 per cent of workplace accidents can be attributed to the actions and omissions of employees.

This highlights how crucial behavioural-based safety (BBS) approaches are in attaining high levels of health and safety in the work environment.

Businesses should therefore seek to implement BBS programmes in order to create an environment in which the unsafe actions of staff are discouraged.

This can improve the level of safety within organisations by establishing a culture where irrational and unsafe decision making is unlikely to occur.

Research has highlighted the wide-reaching benefits of BBS schemes in reducing the number of accidents in the workplace.

In a study conducted by Sulzer-Azaroff and Austin in 2000, 33 such programmes were reviewed and a reduction in injuries of between two and 85 per cent was revealed.

Stakeholders need to gain an understanding of the behaviours that contribute to accidents and identify ways in which to eradicate those behaviours.

It is important to note that BBS cannot work in an environment where few or no other safety measures are in place. It is more suited to businesses that already have reliable health and safety practices in place.

In an environment where health and safety is a key concern, BBS programmes can help to develop this further still by working on the small areas in which unsafe actions still pervade.

Often it is the case that a small percentage of unsafe actions are responsible for a large part of an organisation's accidents.

Additional benefits linked to the implementation of BBS programmes include the regular engagement of employees in the process of devising safety measures in the workplace, increased management visibility, and a culture which encourages employees to think about the human factors that can influence behaviour.

When programmes are properly planned and developed in a consultative manner, they can help to transform the approach that employees will take to safety. BBS programmes can change behaviour through the process of "cognitive dissonance".

Identifying the areas of behaviour which could be the cause of unsafe working practices relies on trained observers, who are responsible for regularly monitoring their colleagues' safety behaviour against agreed measures.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) described this process as "like taking a photograph".

"It provides a snapshot of a moment in time. The greater the number of observations, the more reliable the data becomes, as the employees' true behavioural pattern can be established," IOSH stated.

With this high quality data, organisations can make well-founded decisions based on reliable information which can give them a clear barometer of safety performance.

This information forms a key part of the process of identifying the operational areas most in need of improvement. With this tool, stakeholders can encourage the safe behaviour of employees with the reinforcement of safe working practices, while simultaneously implementing corrective actions to address areas where unsafe behaviours still exist.

Businesses are reminded that there are some resource requirements related to the likelihood of successfully developing and implementing BBS programmes.

Included among those requirements are: A senior management project sponsor, a site programme coordinator, a team of trained observers, and a core team of willing individuals to develop and manage the programme in partnership with the coordinator.

Allocating the appropriate amount of time and resources to BBS programmes is essential to their success.  

Aviva Risk Management Solutions health and safety consultant Helen Toll comments: "BBS approaches range enormously from just encouraging employees to stop the job if they have safety concerns and to stop and think about risks before starting a job, through to more involved programmes of peer observation of safe and unsafe behaviour, recording and analysing the data obtained and developing action plans to remove the barriers to unsafe behaviour.

"It is essential to choose a programme to suit your organisation’s specific needs and level of safety culture maturity. This may be an off the shelf package, but more often than not, a more tailored programme is likely to be better received by the work force, especially if it is developed with their involvement.

"Also, it is important not just to focus on the behaviour of front line staff; the behaviour and decision making of managers is equally important as this may embed ‘latent failures’ into the health and safety management system, such as poor equipment design, lack of monitoring or inadequate resources, which at a later date can create the conditions where unsafe behaviours are more likely." ADNFCR-2134-ID-800388359-ADNFCR