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BBS 2.0: Fueling Discretionary Effort to Prevent SIFs

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

The Challenge

Although workplace incident rates have steadily declined by 28% over the last decade, rates for serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) have remained virtually unchanged.1 Further, organizations often focus on “recordables” without adequately addressing, prioritizing, and communicating about incidents (and close calls) with SIF potential. As an example, someone spraining an ankle falling 20 feet from a telephone line is quite different than the same person doing so stepping out of a truck.

Leaders need to reorient their thinking regarding SIFs. Recordables and first-aids should continue to be monitored, addressed, and discussed. However, overemphasizing these metrics does a disservice when SIF potential with incidents (and close calls) isn’t fully considered. Contributing factors that could end or seriously alter someone’s life need to be better understood, prioritized, and addressed. 

Leaders also need to use scientific methods to identify and prevent SIFs. The efficacy of behavior-based safety (BBS) to improve safety culture and prevent injuries has been demonstrated for decades.2-12 Unfortunately, BBS has been marketed and packaged in ways that water down its effectiveness. Rebooting and expanding behavioral safety (i.e., BBS 2.0) will maximize SIF prevention efforts.

BBS 2.0

Traditional BBS typically involves training throughout the organization to address the principles and practical applications of behavioral science as applied to organizational safety. This includes themes like the Antecedent — Behavior — Consequence model to explain and redirect behavior. When done properly, it also addresses person states, safety systems, and larger safety culture themes that impact behavior choices at ALL organizational levels. 

The term BBS 2.0 is used to describe the ideal manner in which behavioral safety should be viewed, implemented, and sustained for long-term improvement. In some cases, it represents renewing and rebooting existing BBS efforts. Too often, processes like BBS are framed as packages to purchase to reduce injuries. Leaders may view BBS as a program to reduce injuries that simply needs to be acquired and then executed. When implemented poorly by people without deep behavioral understanding, they may come across as “just another program.” This results in perceptions of “flavor of the month” until the next package comes along. Even worse, unintended consequences like perceptions of “blaming the employee” may occur when BBS is implemented poorly.

In some cases, BBS may be replaced by the next program and abandoned altogether. For leaders, this results in a series of disjointed programs that don’t compliment or build on the successes of previous efforts. The purpose of this blog is to provide guidance in implementing or updating behavioral safety (i.e., BBS 2.0) to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. BBS 2.0 is a holistic approach that focuses on behaviors, attitudes and systems to improve safety culture and performance.

Revamping BBS Cards and Use

BBS checklists are an effective means to identify safe actions to reinforce along with risky behaviors to address. Immediate feedback is provided to the employee and group data is analyzed to determine behavioral trends in various locations. In addition to being highly diagnostic and informative (when done correctly), the ongoing process of identifying and addressing key issues provides something most safety programs can’t deliver: sustainability. Rather than training being a “one and done” exercise, BBS provides a foundation and system for ongoing improvement efforts. It’s not unusual to speak with leaders who’ve been doing BBS for decades. The same cannot be said for many other training programs that have a finite beginning and end.

However, BBS needs to be implemented and maintained with care to avoid common pitfalls. This includes:

Tracking the number of observations done instead of the quality. This encourages “pencil whipping” the cards especially when people are held accountable to these numbers.

Establishing quotas for completion which leads to pencil whipping and the common experience of receiving a large number of checklists at the end of the month.

Focusing solely on behaviors without acknowledging and addressing system factors that influence behaviors. People may feel like they’re being audited when the emphasis is only on whether or not certain behaviors (e.g., wearing hard hats when required) were conducted safely in the moment.

Little or no communication following observations makes people wonder what’s happening with the BBS information. People will question, “what’s in it for me?” if improvements from observations aren’t shared. Leaders need to constantly advertise system improvements made from employee feedback during the process.

Checklist data is helpful and guides system improvements. Percent safe scores should be calculated with behaviors (and behavioral categories) across different areas and locations. However, the end game with BBS checklists is to increase the quality and quantity of safety conversations, not simply determining if BBS activities have been done. More importantly, the emphasis should be on genuine conversations following BBS checklist use. This promotes psychological safety and increased employee engagement. Remember: it’s not an observation without a conversation. As critical as the behavior data is, meaningful conversations about safety are more important. BBS is a powerful tool to improve safety conversations throughout the organization.13-18

Typical BBS checklists include behavioral categories like PPE Use, Body Position, and Energy Isolation with corresponding behaviors (e.g., wearing gloves under the category of PPE Use). This provides an opportunity to identify specific strengths and weaknesses with various behaviors and behavioral categories. For instance, PPE use may be 90% safe in a given area with glove use at 68%. In this example, better gloves may be purchased and pinch point opportunities reduced in order to decrease the likelihood of cuts, abrasions, and amputations.

Broadly, leaders use the data to reinforce strengths and also work with employees to improve gaps. This creates a legitimate learning environment where employee feedback is solicited and used. And, as mentioned, it fosters an ongoing, sustainable process of constant reinforcement and improvement.

With BBS 2.0, checklists are expanded to include more open-ended questions to facilitate discussion and better identify system deficiencies. In addition to behavioral categories, open ended questions are added to the bottom of the checklist with a space for comments (instead of safe or at-risk). Employees should be consulting when adding these questions. Examples include:

-What scares you about the job in terms of your own personal safety?

-What else do you need to stay safe?

-Do any procedures need updating?

-Where might the next injury occur?

-What would you change about the job to make it safer?

Adding these open-ended questions facilitates richer conversation. Employees are more likely to feel consulted instead of audited with this approach. Also, system factors contributing to risk are better identified with this approach. There’s increased emphasis on discussions over quotas with card completion.

Remember: it’s about people, not paper.

At Propulo, we work with leaders to create or revamp existing BBS programs to increase discretionary effort and prevent SIFs. For more information on this topic, read about Behavior Based Safety (BBS 2.0) at Propulo Consulting.

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS): Mini-Assessment

Take the following mini-assessment to gauge the current effectiveness of your Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) process:


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