« Return to Newsletter

Behavior Based Safety | How Workers Work and What Leaders Look For

In the Maritime industry, organizations move through different levels of safety maturity as they travel their safety journey. However, a company’s safety progress can stagnate or plateau. Safety professionals and operational leaders should routinely assess and control the physical risks present in a work environment. But, why are employees still getting hurt? Do you find that the cause of injury is always the fault of an inattentive worker, and are we as leaders just looking to “blame and retrain”?

What we should realize is that no matter what your business, success depends on our employees and their engagement in working safely.  Resistance to change in organizations is a challenge, and sometimes we can’t figure out an effective manner to fight against the old way of doing things. The Behavior Science Technology (BST) Psychology of Behavioral Safety (behavioral-safety.com) reports that between 80% and 95% of all accidents are caused by unsafe behaviors. We have to remain proactive and truly consider the employee behaviors that shape your company’s safety culture and not just the physical aspects of workplace safety.

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) is a proactive safety method to improve workers’ actions by understanding the reasons employees make a decision, the why and how employees are performing their work tasks. BBS allows a company to reflect on why workers choose to perform in an unsafe manner when a safer or proven process has already been considered, trained to, and is expected. This approach allows for leaders to converse with workers and partner with them to understand the best way to proceed. Leaders can highlight good behaviors they witnessed, as well as discuss at-risk behaviors they observed. This consultation and teamwork develops effective and realistic solutions, building an engaged workforce that appreciates leadership visibility, caring, and commitment. Expectations get communicated, employee morale improves, people working safely can be recognized and validated,  and workers can take ownership and accountability for their personal safety success.

BBS reverse engineers an accident investigation to observe how employees actually perform their tasks. To the worker, it makes perfect sense why they “need” to act unsafely, despite knowing that it is not in alignment with a company’s standard operating procedures (SOP) or their own well-being. People tend to take risks because of the immediate results from their past experiences. They fail to recognize the likelihood and severity of the potential risk they are exposed to, and may inaccurately feel like “it won’t happen to me.”

Companies who develop an effective strategy to implement BBS practices look for opportunities to improve safety, eliminate hazards, and ultimately prevent injuries. When leaders are taught how to perform BBS, they can identify critical behavioral inconsistencies and more accurately determine the root causes of incidents. Teams come together to collaborate on potential solutions and how to implement lasting, meaningful, practical, and executable controls. And, by implementing the “Plan–Do–Check–Act” approach, there is a push for continuous review and improvement. Instead of solely reacting to lagging indicators, leaders take a proactive stance and implement change directly with the workforce. Frontline workers become the solution and gain an understanding that their actions shape the company’s safety culture. Organizations can use BBS to communicate to workers what their roles and responsibilities are in making safety a true core value.

To implement BBS into your organization, consider what behaviors should be assessed that are specific to your industry. Perform a gap analysis of the tasks and processes and how they are currently taking place compared to what you want them to be. Create tools for workers to use in the field, such as a BBS Checklist. Establish SMART goals to ensure observations can be measured and communicate these goals to your selected teams. They need to understand why they are performing these operational observations, but most importantly how the right behaviors will help them arrive home safely at the end of their shift to those who love them. Empower your supervisors to start creating their own “constant observational safety” culture and get their commitment to continuous improvement. Educate and demonstrate how to conduct an observation, how to praise successes, and how to provide constructive and respectful feedback for identified at-risk behaviors. Set improvement goals and track your company’s progress. The more people are validated for performing their tasks safely, the better they understand leadership’s expectations for doing things the right way (instead of the fastest way). When your supervisors understand why people behave the way they do, they can better respond and advocate for safe work practices. While your supervisors are having these conversations, they are building relationships.

Behavior-based safety helps everyone in an organization contribute to a unified vision of a safer work culture. When people have a vision of a better future, and resistance is neutralized, the team can take the necessary first steps to enact sustainable change. Your organization can have a more engaged workforce who believes and feels the executive’s safety expectations. You will see a significant reduction in workplace accidents and your KPIs will validate your efforts. Employees will have “buy-in” towards being an active part of the safety culture, and the sense of teamwork thrives. People across the organization will model the behavior and lead by example, positively reinforcing instead of repetitive corrections to mistakes. Ultimately, BBS is an effective way for leaders across the organization to visibly demonstrate their commitment to safety. They can personally express why they want people to work safer; so they can get home to what they love most in this world. Changing people’s old habits is challenging, but we must do so if we want to push for continuous improvement and if we ever hope to address the remaining risk in our operations. Workplace conditions can hurt people, but until we address the behaviors that created those conditions, we cannot achieve safety perfection.



Andy Booth is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Safety Manager for Signal Management Services, a worker's compensation insurance provider for United States Longshore and Harbor Workers coverage. He supports multiple Signal Members in this region, which include shipyards and supporting ship repair industries, as well as marine terminals, marine construction, and many other maritime-related companies. He has grown up and lived in Norfolk for most of his life, except for time spent at sea as a licensed ship's officer, and now enjoys time spent at home with his wife Meagan and their enormous Great Dane, Harper. The thing he likes best about helping improve safety across our region is that he gets to work with everyone from employees to executives to make sure everyone gets to go back to their homes, and to their loved ones at the end of the day.

« Return to Newsletter