What is behavioural safety management?

What is behavioural safety management?

Behavioural safety management is an approach used to address the link between the behaviour of the workforce and workplace accidents. It’s sometimes known as safety behaviour modification, behaviour-based safety, or referred to as behavioural safety approaches. Ultimately, they are all forms of behaviour modification. The Health and Safety Executive has produced guidelines on this method, looking at its theory, the advantages, disadvantages, best practices and case studies to achieve optimum results in health and safety management.

What can behaviour safety management achieve?

Behaviour safety approaches complement the broader occupational safety toolkit, including Safety Management Systems and process safety. It defines safe and unsafe behaviours, observes behaviour in the workplace and provides feedback to reinforce safe behaviour and re-educate hazardous practices. Feedback can involve specific input and discussion with individuals and team, or general data sharing. The outcome of a successful behaviour modification programme should be a reduction in workplace accidents by changing the actions of the workforce.

What are the advantages of behavioural safety approaches?

Behavioural safety approaches open up positive discussions about safety in the workplace. The implementation of this style of safety management can mean that management and health and safety staff are more visible to frontline workforce, and employees may feel more engaged in safety discussions. Staff can learn to act promptly on unsafe behaviour and learn to observe and report actions that could be dangerous. Ultimately, using a behaviour safety management approach can identify hazardous situations, change workplace behaviour and result in fewer accidents.

What are the disadvantages of behavioural safety approaches?

The HSE recommends approaching behavioural safety with caution. Organisations should check that the messages are compatible with other safety messages and be wary of ignoring low probability/high consequence risks. Critics have suggested that the approach can create a blame culture. In a paper for the Health and Safety Executive, an inspector pointed out that while behavioural interventions can show improvement in wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s of little relevance if those wearing the PPE don’t have the underlying process knowledge to respond to a developing incident, nor if there is an insufficient workforce.

Considering a behavioural safety management

Before committing to behavioural safety management, organisations should consider:

  • What evidence is there to suggest that behaviour change will improve safety in your organisation?
  • How will you link your behaviour safety to your safety culture and Safety Management System (SMS)?
  • Do you understand what the limitations of behavioural safety are?
  • Can you dedicate enough time, resources and effort (including the commitment of senior management) to implement a behaviour safety programme properly?
  • Does a behaviour safety programme fit with your organisation’s needs and culture?
  • What your organisation’s Safety Culture Maturity Model and is behaviour modification compatible with your maturity?

Implementing behavioural safety management

A further consideration of behaviour safety management is that standard solutions cannot be universally applied. To ensure the successful implementation of a behavioural safety approach, businesses should work at identifying the right key performance indicators (KPIs). Key risks, risk awareness and behaviour of employees, disparities between different parts of the organisation and hierarchical differences should all be apprised, along with benchmarking against similar companies.

Once KPIs are established, a behaviour modification programme can be designed. The Health and Safety Executive suggests a six-step process:

  1. Determine the desired result
  2. Specify critical behaviour
  3. Check the workforce can perform the desired actions
  4. Conduct an ABC analysis on the current and desired behaviour
  5. Alter the consequence following the desired response
  6. Evaluate the impact of changing the consequence on the behaviour and the desired result

The Health and Safety Executive has further information and resources about behavioural safety approaches.

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Published on 14 January 2020


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