Back to the Drawing Board: Rethinking Your Behavior-Based Safety Approach

Behavior Based Safety

Cority recently hosted a webinar with renowned safety experts Dr. Andrew Sharman and Darren Sutton of RMS Switzerland on the topic of Behavior-Based Safety and why it’s time for organizations to rethink their approach. Darren Sutton and Cority’s Sean Baldry provide answers below to some of the great questions from audience members we didn’t get a chance to cover during the webinar. 

How do you compare the new approach to Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) to the Safety Differently Approach?

There are similarities between the two approaches such as focusing more on the behaviors that we want rather than focusing less on what we don’t want. The new approach to BBS encompasses all of the factors that combine to influence behavior, including the actions and inactions of others within the leadership chain. It focuses on creating intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic to create sustainable change.

How would progressive disciplinary policies work with this approach to BBS?

That’s a complex question and one we explore in detail in our eBook, 9 Common Behavior-Based Safety QuestionsAnswered as well as in our online Behavioral Safety Leadership Program

There is a place for disciplinary actions BUT we need leaders to fully understand the implications.  There are better ways to motivate people these days that are more sustainable and shift away from a HAVE TO mindset to WANTING to.

Do you think BBS and HOP (Human and Organizational Performance) are complimentary or fundamentally opposing strategies?

A modern BBS program encompasses all aspects of performance to create sustainable change and the principles of HOP certainly fit that category. A modern BBS program will encompass all aspects of creating performance excellence and the principles of HOP can dovetail very well. 

What kind of safety incentives work? Do cash incentives ever work to increase safety?

The short answer here is none of them! Not in the long term anyhow and they can create many more problems than they intended to solve. Incentives should not be used in any areas of safety performance or to help create new behaviors. We should look for intrinsic motivators for long term and sustainable change. Cash incentives are extrinsic motivators and should not be used to motivate employees. Incentives lead to all kinds of unwanted outcomes, we devote a whole lesson to the perils of incentivization in our online program

How do we get buy-in for data-based change?

You’ve pinpointed something that a lot of health and safety professionals fail to consider when they desire to shift their organization toward a data-driven approach, specifically “how do I get the buy-in necessary from company leadership and key stakeholders to make that change happen?”

It comes down to this:  how can you translate the improvements we expect to realize in health and safety through this data-driven approach into the language of the business and the specific levers it uses to measure success?  That’s key.  The following resources outline how to effectively communicate to management and build a compelling business case to support your data-driven approach: 

When collecting data from safety observations, how do you focus on what data will benefit your safety culture the most?

That’s a great question as the things that are most important to us like trust, leadership, engagement, and attitudes are not so easily measured. That’s exactly why we need to become more people-focused. Richer data, not more data will help us here. 

Do we obsess too much with trying to measure safety? Are we at risk of counting the number of activities completed rather than understanding whether risk is being managed effectively? What should we measure?

We could write a whole book on this question! As we discussed during our recent webinar Behavior-Based Safety: Why You Should Rethink Your Approach, when it comes to safety metrics, the number itself means very little and can be manipulated. We should try to measure in the now and gather data in such a way that people can make immediate adjustments. We need to look for the things that really matter and are not so easily measured, like people’s attitudes. People’s attitudes tend to be a reliable leading indicator of future performance and behavior and attitudes can change quite frequently. The question then becomes about how do we become more people-focused and measure people’s attitudes?  We talk about this further in our Behavioral-Safety Leadership Program and Behavior-Based Safety eBook

Taking COVID-19 and the challenges that has brought aside, what would you say are the biggest challenges to an organization driving change and how might it best approach dealing with them?

That question is on many people’s minds right now. We suggest you apply exactly the same principles of leadership here. Listen to people’s concerns and encourage them to share their ideas and solutions to the new problems that we face. There will be a need for trust and authenticity at all levels.  A servant leadership approach and some nudge theory can help here too. We explore this further in our online program and in Andrew Sharman’s book From Accidents to Zero.  

RELATED: The Ultimate COVID-19 Return to Work Kit

In designing a system/workflow, if you don’t ask what can go wrong, how can the system be designed with resistance to failure?

We’re not saying that it’s wrong to consider the things that can go wrong, just that it’s often better to create and design things to make it easier to do things the safe way rather than JUST thinking about preventing people from doing it the unsafe way.

How can you create a safety culture at a construction site with 3 different subcontractors under your leadership? 

They same principles of leadership apply here. It’s all about becoming more people-focused, encouraging the contractors to become involved and to share their ideas. The leader should clearly identify their intent.  

With 4-5 distance workers how do you always portray and support the safety culture?  Some are having to work solo when a second support would be more safe.

Great question. That’s exactly why we need to focus on intrinsic motivators to drive performance.  It’s important to keep that human connection with remote workers, to have the same kind of conversations with them as we would on our sites. The principles in terms of influencing behavior are very similar. 

Suggestions or tips for teaching, instructing and guiding others on implementing a Behavior-Based Safety program?

Poll results from our recent webinar indicated that inadequate training was the most significant barrier to Behavior-Based Safety program implementation: 

Leaders at all levels need good quality training to shift people’s mindsets towards creating more of what we want to see. Behavior-based safety isn’t about checklists, or audits or creating more rules – It’s about creating a culture of safety where we take interest and look out for others to ensure they go home without harm, everyday. It’s about “winning hearts and minds”.  And doing so requires that we first understand what makes people do the things they do.

Next Steps

To enhance your leadership skills in behavioral safety, register for the IOSH-certified Behavioral Safety Leadership Program. Through this interactive e-learning program, you will learn valuable insights to help you build a strong culture of safety at your organization, and support your path to operational excellence: