The BBS Method and What it Can Do for Workplace Safety

| March 02, 2023

Regardless of the size of your business or the industry you're in, workplace safety is likely a top priority. While there are many approaches to implementing a safety culture, one common approach is called behavior-based safety, or BBS, a program first introduced in the 1970s. The goal of the BBS approach is to empower employees to prioritize safe behaviors on the job by using routine observations and through these observations, they receive either consequences for unsafe behavior or reinforcement for desired behaviors.

How Does BBS Work?
The BBS approach involves what is called the "ABC Model": antecedents, behaviors and consequences. Through this model, organizations can identify unsafe behaviors and determine an effective intervention strategy. The three main elements of the ABC model are: 

  1. Antecedents—These are the factors leading up to a particular behavior. For example, let's say an employee is told by his supervisor to hurry up and complete a task involving heavy machinery. With speed as a focus, he doesn't put on the required protective gear, possibly because he feels it's unnecessary. In this case both the supervisor’s instructions and the employee’s past experience are antecedents.
  2. Behaviors—These are the observable actions of an individual such as what they do or say. In the previous example, the behavior is the employee using heavy machinery without the proper safety gear. 
  3. Consequences—This refers to what happens after an individual engages in a certain behavior. Consequences can be either reinforcers or punishers. Reinforcers involve rewarding a safe behavior while punishers call out an unsafe or unwanted behavior. In the above example, the consequences could play out in multiple ways. After completing the task involving heavy machinery without the proper safety gear, the supervisor might praise the employee for finishing the task quickly and reinforce the unsafe behavior. Alternatively, the supervisor may observe the employee's lack of safety gear and make it clear that this equipment is essential, punishing the action and deterring the behavior from happening again.

Why BBS is Effective

BBS is effective because it requires observations across all levels of an organization, making everyone responsible for promoting a safe workplace. BBS also often promotes collaboration, trust and teamwork throughout an organization, contributing to a stronger culture. This approach usually delivers long-term results by pushing employees to continuously improve and adopt a mindset that focuses on avoiding unsafe practices on the job. Altogether, BBS has the potential to help organizations keep accidents and related injuries to a minimum—a crucial feat in any workplace.
Implementing an Effective BBS Program
When implementing BBS programs, communication is key. All employees, regardless of skillset, experience or department must participate. It is also important that the BBS program is integrated with existing workplace safety initiatives and compliance efforts. Doing so will help avoid any confusion among employees regarding safety expectations on-site and maximize overall program engagement. Important components of the BBS program are: 
  • Observations—This is the most critical component of the BBS program as they help determine the causes of unsafe behaviors and how to remedy them. Observations should never come as a surprise to employees and should be scheduled and announced in advance. Individuals in charge of conducting observations (also called observers) should always be trusted and respected employees that have been properly trained on how to perform objective safety reviews and are well-experienced in the tasks being observed. Above all, behaviors selected for observation must be those that:
    • Can be easily seen or heard
    • Will be interpreted the same way by others
    • Are within employees’ control
    • Can be described in a positive light (e.g., focusing on what could have been done instead of what shouldn’t be done)
  • Checklists—To help guide observers in their review processes, checklists can be a beneficial tool. These checklists should focus on the tasks at hand and outline key hazards and safety behaviors to keep in mind. For example, a checklist for observing a commercial driver behind the wheel could include items such as wearing a seatbelt, using turn signals as needed and minimizing distractions.
  • Feedback—Observers should be instructed to provide feedback both during and after observation. It is best to praise or discourage certain behaviors as they happen. In the days following observation periods, observers should utilize their checklists and any other notes they may have taken to highlight employees’ safety strengths and possible areas for improvement to the appropriate teams and departments. Despite the use of the term “punisher” in the previously mentioned ABC model, actual punishments within a BBS program should always focus on fixing unsafe behaviors rather than reprimanding them.
  • Goals—Finally, a BBS program should document goals the organization wants to accomplish. These goals will vary based on an organization’s unique needs and specific safety exposures. Potential goals may entail setting deadlines for mitigating occupational injury rates by 25% or getting 100% of employees to wear necessary PPE. Such goals can even help dictate key behaviors to look for during observation periods.

Common Program Mistakes to Avoid
It’s important to note that poor implementation of BBS programs can end up hampering organizations’ safety efforts instead of helping them. With this in mind, organizations should aim to avoid these common mistakes when establishing their programs:

  • Placing too much emphasis on observation processes and program participation instead of correcting unsafe behaviors
  • Neglecting to provide positive reinforcement to employees who engage in safe behaviors
  • Focusing observations and corrective strategies solely on certain groups of employees (e.g., hourly workers) rather than the entire workforce
  • Putting all program responsibilities on specific employees and ultimately overwhelming them instead of spreading tasks across the workforce and giving all employees a dedicated (yet reasonable) role
  • Failing to offer employee training on occupational hazards, necessary safety behaviors, corrective strategies for unsafe behaviors or the BBS approach as a whole
  • Overcomplicating the program with excessive meetings, in-depth data reviews or lengthy observations (e.g., 30 minutes or more) that focus on too many behaviors at once

If you're interested in discussing workplace safety or would like a copy of our BBS checklist, contact DiNicola Insurance Services today!