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Everything You Think You Know About Behavior-Based Safety is Wrong

Most executive teams view the elimination of workplace risk as central to the success of their organization. But if you’re only using a hierarchy of hazard control system to manage occupational health and safety, your approach is likely too narrow to be fully effective.

In this post, we’ll discuss why implementing behavior-based safety programs is actually one of the best approaches EHS pros can take to improve safety outcomes.

What is a Behavior-Based Safety Program Exactly?


Most EHS experts believe that a holistic approach to safety management involves striking the right balance between eliminating risks and influencing employees to make safer choices, which is where behavior-based safety programs fit in. The behavior-based safety method focuses on preventing occupational illness and injury by encouraging positive behavior and shaping employee perceptions towards safety.

The Scope of a Successful Behavior-Based Safety Program


At a minimum, behavior-based safety programs focus on achieving the following safety initiatives:

  • Increasing safe behavior in the workplace by examining, understanding and shaping underlying employee motivations
  • Building a robust safety culture that recognizes and rewards safe decision-making
  • Boosting worker participation in the company’s EHS program at all levels of the organization

The Controversy Surrounding Behavior-Based Safety Programs


Like many controversial safety methodologies, behavior-based safety continues to be a much-debated topic among EHS professionals. Many argue there are too many barriers to get a program up and running successfully or that they’re just not effective enough.

If you’ve ever debated workplace behavior-based safety programs with another EHS pro, they may have raised the following common criticisms:

1. Claims that behavior-based safety programs are too difficult to implement and measure

As behavior-based safety relies heavily on the psychology of learning and motivation, some opponents believe it’s simply too big of an undertaking to try to shape how workers assess risk and make decisions. Critics that fall into this camp are quick to rule out behavior-based safety programs altogether, and are often resistant to trying new things.

2. Claims that behavior-based safety programs will make workers more hesitant to report injuries

Some naysayers believe that within a behavior-based safety program, workers will avoid reporting injuries out of fear of reprisal. Behavior-based safety has gotten a bad rap in some safety circles as a ‘blame-the-worker’ approach, but this is largely a misconception. In reality, behavior-based safety initiatives should actually increase reporting of near-misses and OSHA recordables.

3. Claims that behavior-based safety approaches eliminate the need for trained EHS professionals

Occasionally, an executive team will fall into the trap of thinking that safety inspections and personal protective equipment are all that’s required to maintain compliance, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, companies who buy into this idea are setting themselves up for failure. An in-house EHS expert should never be replaced by an outside consultant who has no knowledge of the field.

Despite the multiple critiques and controversies, behavior-based safety continues to spark interest across numerous industries and many leading companies continue to use behavior-based safety to their advantage to improve safety outcomes. When it comes to implementing a behavior-based safety program, the bottom line is that it takes equal parts employee participation and management commitment to make it work.


An earlier version of this article originally appeared on Safeopedia

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