Behavioral Based Safety: Solution of the Past of Key to the Future?

Anderson, Rebecca
(University of Minnesota – Duluth)


Traditionally, most safety and health programs have been based on regulatory compliance, with a goal of creating a controlled, hazard free work environment. A variety of program approaches were developed to aid professionals in correcting environmental conditions including audits, system safety, risk analysis, and employee training. Recordables and lost time typically served as indicators of a successful safety program, and this data continues to serve a significant role in safety.

Recently, there has been a shift by some firms toward management driven safety programs that integrate safety awareness into the everyday business environment. These companies are making the choice to elevate the role of safety to a higher status, reflecting the value business places on the well-being and productivity of their employees. At-risk behaviors have been identified as the leading indicators for unsafe incidents. Consequently, many safety and health professionals now focus on changing the concept of safety in the workplace from a routine practice to an intrinsic value of all employees. With this shift, however, must come a change in culture, “…where everyone feels responsible (not just accountable) for their own safety and that of others.” (Geller)

This new wave in safety focused toward behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions of employees. Many behavioral based safety (BBS) consulting firms were established throughout the country to assist safety professionals in the implementation of this concept. Most of the approaches promoted by these firms essentially applied principles and methods of behavioral psychology, such as observation and feedback, to reinforce or correct behaviors. Firms usually have an inventory of common at-risk behaviors, and make regular observations of employees. These records then provide professionals with a database that can be used to address the concerns indicated by at-risk behaviors. Commercial programs such as Behavioral Science Technology (BST), Dupont, and Safety Performance Solutions allow for the inclusion of in house methods and integration of principles into existing programs.

Is behavioral based safety the direction of future safety programs? Although this new approach to safety was well received by most professionals, and some still consider it the “magic bullet” of safety, others are undecided on its effective implementation in safety management systems. More specifically, some of the concerns expressed are the cost for training participant in observations, establishing and maintaining a database of at-risk behaviors, and time required away from production to conduct observations. (Scott Norman) It has also been noted that the behaviorist approach is only effective while the subject is being observed and feedback is given consistently and in a timely manner. (John Kamp) It is impossible to contin:ually observe all employees so at-risk behaviors go unnoticed and uncorrected a majority of the time.

Has Behavioral based safety has reached a plateau in efficiency and cost-effectiveness? Safety and health professionals are contemplating the next generation in safety programs. Whether future safety programs include behavioral safety principles, cognitive psychology, or other methodologies designed to address the safety culture of an organization, they are sure to incorporate the strengths of successful programs. A qualitative analysis of current safety programming is needed to identify programs in use, evaluate program effectiveness, and examine program review procedure.


The purpose of this project is to research what has and is being done, as well as what should be done, in a representative sample of semi-conductor industries relative to behavioral based safety programs.


A survey will be created and disseminated to a representative sample of major semiconductor manufacturing facilities. The survey will be developed with the cooperation of Chuck Bailey, who headed a federally funded landmark study on behavioral safety in the 1980’s. The survey will include both narrative and “check off” sections.

The survey will focus on:

– Current behavioral safety program types

– The extent to which firms utilize consultants to aid in the creation or implementation of safety programs

– Methods used to collect data and evaluate program effectiveness

– Overall impressions of current safety programs in terms:
+ Positive aspects and drawbacks of behavioral safety programs
+ Measurable goals for effective safety programs
+ Techniques used to determine the successes and failures of their firm’s programs
+ Perceived barriers to success Recommendations for future use of behavioral safety principles


The information gained through this survey will be used as a database of behavioral based safety approaches which have been tried in the semiconductor industry. This feedback of behavioral based safety programs will then be used as a basis for their evaluation in terms of present and future potential.


Bailey, Charles. President, Bailey and Associates. Interview, October 31, 2002.

Geller, E.S. Beyond Safety Accountability: How to Increase Personal Responsibility. Neenah, WI: J.J. Keller and Associates Inc., 1998.

Kamp, John. Cognitive Era. Professional Safety. October 2001: 30-35.

Norman, Scott. EHS Manager, Agilent Technology, Inc. Telephone Interview, October 18, 2002.

Owsley, Melissa. EHS Manager, Cypress Technology. Telephone Interview, October 20, 2002.

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