Behavioural safety change, what does it mean?

We take a dive into behaviour-based safety and how organisations can improve safety by engaging more with employees.

Author: Amy Law

7 minute read

Published: 08.09.21

At a glance

  • Did you know that 95% of accidents are caused by unsafe behaviour, NOT by hazardous conditions?
  • By focusing on changing behaviour (using behavioural safety programs) businesses have succeeded in reducing injury rates by almost 30% in the first eighteen-months.
  • Behavioural safety programs require data to help identify the most dangerous behaviours and allow teams to make changes to stop these.
  • The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) identifies an implementation cycle for behavioural safety programs. GKD can support businesses at each stage of this cycle.

In our last blog we looked at the importance of safety culture in relation to ESG metrics and investment. Research for this led us to a few articles and research papers focused on the benefits of employee engagement for businesses and found many references to behavioural safety training and management, the topic for GKD blog number two!

The days of “top down” safety standards and best practise seem, in the main, to be a dim and distant memory in most organisations. As with many business practices, the adoption of a more holistic approach is delivering greater engagement, traction, and better results. When the subject is safety, I think we can all agree that the getting it right is vital.

We know that unsafe behaviour causes four times more accidents than hazardous working conditions (RoSPA) and that 95% of all workplace accidents are triggered by unsafe behaviours. It is not a giant leap to suggest that these behaviours probably interact with other inherently negative working practices (but maybe that’s blog number three!).

This focus on the “human factor” has undoubtedly come because of the implementation of mechanical and technical systems which have increased reliability and reduced risk from process and machinery. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) established different types of “human failures,” such as errors and violations:

GKD can support companies with data on errors and violations in specific areas of business. Our systems are deliberately “open” so that we can integrate different safety solutions / data streams to provide an even better understanding of the behaviours that need changing.

In the US this approach is often referred to as behaviour-based safety (BBS) and stemmed from early research by Psychologist, B. F. Skinner, PhD. It includes a variety of processes, programs, strategies, and tactics that apply behavioural psychological principles to change specific behaviours (Gilmore, Perdue, & Wu, 2001).

This caught the GKD teams’ attention, as it suggests that the approach requires behaviour change and that leads to an attitude change. Playing to our strengths, it also suggests that a behaviour-based safety program needs to identify which behaviour needs changing. The ability to get data from our products has always been a focus, from our safety control products to SensorZone, GKD customers can download data that shows who, where and when near-misses or incidents have occurred. In the next three-months we will take this one step further and deliver this data in a meaningful safety dashboard. The point is, we are confident that we can provide lots of data that can help you identify which behaviours need changing. One better, we can then help you monitor and test what creates improvements!

The American Psychological Association suggests that, on average, one year after introducing BBS recorded injury rates decrease by 29%. After five years it is 72% and after seven or more it has dropped by 79%. A case study trial by United Airlines and Heathrow Airport in 2005 (by Robin Phillips CFIOSH) showed an increase in observed “safe behaviour” from 70 to 79% over the first nineteen-months. Interestingly the company’s insurers have recognised the programme’s importance and reduced the employer’s liability premiums.

It is interesting that in the case studies we have found, the application of behavioural based safety training is being implemented over long periods of time. Showing that this approach requires a cultural shift in an organisation and can in turn offer continuous improvements to those that gain traction and success. The IOSH focus on a cycle for implementing a behavioural based safety program:

At GKD we are lucky that our UK partner, SiteZone, have a wealth of experience in rolling out SensorZone (our collision avoidance solution). The 97.5% reduction in near misses that we report is their good news story, and we would like to find partners who are looking to measure initial results and work with us on implementing a safety dashboard to carry on measuring the impact of behavioural safety program. If you have a site or project that we could partner with you on, we’d love to hear from you.

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