Building a Safer Tomorrow: Transforming Workplace Culture with Proactive Behavior-Based Safety
Blog | February 12th, 2024

Building a Safer Tomorrow: Transforming Workplace Culture with Proactive Behavior-Based Safety

It was a scorching July afternoon at the manufacturing facility of a leading auto components manufacturer. Amidst the sound of machinery and the relentless pace of the assembly line, Joe, a seasoned machine operator, was performing a routine task on the press machine. With years of experience under his belt, Joe worked with a confidence that bordered on autopilot.That day, under pressure to meet the increasing demand, he took a familiar shortcut, bypassing the safety protocol to save a few precious minutes.

The consequence was immediate and devastating – a split-second misjudgment and Joe's hand was caught in the machinery, leading to a tragic and irreversible injury. This incident was a wake-up call for the auto component firm. It wasn't the equipment that failed; it was the culmination of routine unsafe acts, overlooked because they hadn't led to an incident—until now.

It highlighted a bitter truth: effective safety isn't just about policies and processes; it's fundamentally about behavior.

This is a true story (with the name of the worker changed) that we heard from one of our customers. This incident prompted the need for change and ComplianceQuest EHS was implemented. Our EHS solution laid the foundation for not only building a robust safety management process but also a collaborative solution that would proactively help the organization build a better safety culture.

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The Imperative for Change: Safety-First Approach Must Become Automatic

In his seminal book, ‘The Power of Habit,’ Charles Duhigg discusses the formation and impact of habits, noting that a staggering 95% of our behavior occurs out of habit rather than conscious thought. In the workplace, this means most accidents stem not from random misfortune but from these habitual behaviors, often labeled as 'human error.'

Recognizing that the most common source of workplace incidents is such mistakes - points us toward the need for a shift from a reactive to a proactive safety stance. At the company mentioned earlier, and indeed in organizations worldwide, the challenge is to build a culture where every employee internalizes the importance of safety, transforming their daily routines into safe practices by design.

Understanding Behavior-Based Safety (BBS)

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) focuses on two crucial elements: eradicating unsafe habits and fostering safe ones. This proactive approach begins with identifying risky behaviors and instituting necessary changes. It's not about finding fault; it's about finding fixes.

As the Department of Labor & Industry's study from Pennsylvania reminds us, 80 out of 100 accidents can be traced back to human actions. Thus, addressing behaviors becomes our primary line of defense.

Remember the 3Ws when it comes to safety risks:

  • The Work - Conditions (Working Conditions, Task at hand)
  • The Workplace - Processes (Processes, Cleanliness, Safety Policy, etc.)
  • The Worker - Behaviour (Training, Skill)

To see the change and improve safety performance, we must proactively address each of these aspects.

The Common Culprits of Unsafe Behavior

It's crucial to acknowledge the common behaviors that lead to accidents. Shortcuts, overconfidence, lack of preparation, and distractions are not just mistakes; they're signs of a deeper issue within the safety culture. They are preventable, not inevitable, and recognizing them is the first step toward prevention.

A Six-Step Strategy for BBS Implementation

Let us now explore a comprehensive six-step strategy to improve safety culture:

  • Design and Implement a Robust Safety Observations Process: Starting with thorough safety walks and inspections, especially in high-risk areas, to spot and correct unsafe actions.
  • Empower Employees to Report Risks: Training and encouraging every individual to voice concerns about risky behaviors creates a collective responsibility for safety.
  • Robust Incident Lifecycle Management: Despite preventative measures, incidents can occur. A robust management system is crucial to learn from these events and prevent future occurrences.
  • Address Unsafe Behavior with Agility: Identifying behavioral issues is one thing; responding quickly and effectively to correct them is another. This involves designing BBS programs, ensuring accountability, and rewarding safe behavior.
  • Risk Assessments and JSA (Job Safety Analysis): Thorough risk assessments and JSA mechanisms can certainly reduce the number of unsafe acts, by putting in place control measures.
  • Training: Safety training often becomes a compliance chore, a box to tick off. Plan a proper communication strategy to ensure safety training is fun and intuitive – while at the same time memorable so that people remember to perform all tasks with a safety-first mindset.
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Conclusion: The Path Forward

The path to a safer workplace is paved with commitment, not just compliance. It involves everyone, from the newest employee to the top management. At the auto component manufacturing company, the shift towards a proactive BBS framework has not just reduced the number of incidents but has fostered a culture where safety is owned by all.

The journey towards zero incidents is ongoing. It is a vision that demands persistence, responsibility, and a shared belief that every accident is preventable. With BBS at the helm, steering clear of the complacency of old habits, we can look forward to a future where work is not just productive but also persistently safe.

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