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

Student Paper: Behavioral Based Safety: Solution of the Past or Key to the Future?
Rebecca K. Anderson; 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.

Articles indicated as Student Papers are from the top three submitted papers from the SESHA Academic Program Scholarship Awards. These papers were reviewed by the SESHA Academic Committee for originality, content, relevance, style, and contribution; and represents one piece of the evaluation process for awarding of the scholarship. Student papers HAVE NOT undergone the standard peer review process; therefore, the reader should use his or her judgment regarding the content and any recommendation the student author has made. If you have comments, questions, or feedback about the paper please feel free to submit them to and the information will be communicated to the student and their academic advisor.



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