Behavioural based safety is a process that helps employees identify and choose a safe behaviour over an unsafe one. This article explains the concept of behavioural based safety. What makes us behave the way we do, what affects us and what are the consequences?

The concept of behavioural based safety

In any given place and in any given situation our actions are determined not only by our knowledge, but also for a very large part by the experiences we have gained in our lives and the way we are affected by others.

An example is using the seatbelt when driving a car; in most countries this is now mandatory and yet it is still very common to see people driving without wearing their seatbelt. These people choose not to wear the seatbelt even if they have the knowledge that it is safer using it and that they will get fined if caught not wearing it. However these people might have experience showing them that it’s more comfortable, and as far as they have never been involved in any accidents they would consider the risk small.

Such events in one’s earlier life affecting the behaviour are called antecedents. The positive effect of certain behaviour increases this behaviour. In this case: it feels more comfortable not wearing the seatbelt and the person has never been involved in any accidents, hence, the person continues not to use the seatbelt. Antecedents can work the other way round as well, meaning that if you observe a negative effect of certain behaviour this decreases the frequency of the behaviour. This could be if the drivers’ co-passengers keep asking them why they are not using the seatbelt, if the drivers get fined every time they drive on the street without using the seatbelt or if they themselves or someone close to them are involved in an accident where the seatbelt could have saved their lives.

Behaviour is often adapted directly from others. The way we perceive safety is clearly affected by the people around us, their actions and the behaviour they exhibit

Behaviour is often learned or adapted directly from others. When looking at the way we perceive safety it is clearly affected by the people around us, their actions and the behaviour they exhibit. Think about the example above: If you are a passenger in the same car as the person driving without the seatbelt, you are subject to being affected by the driver’s behaviour. In other words the passenger looking at the driver’s behaviour might choose also not to use the seatbelt.

BBS is an injury prevention process

So what is Behavioural Based Safety?

Behavioural based safety is a process that helps employees identify and choose a safe behaviour over an unsafe one. When showing behavioural based safety you reflect a proactive approach to safety and health management as well as injury prevention. The process of BBS focuses on at-risk-behaviour/conditions that can lead to injury and on safe behaviour that can contribute to injury prevention. In very general terms you can say that BBS is an injury prevention process.

Behaviour-based safety is based on four key components:

Situational awareness and observation
Informal feedback process
Defining improvement goals
Follow-up on goal attainment

Situational awareness and observation

Studies of accidents in maritime operations support the notion that lack of situational awareness covers for as much as 2/3 of incidents attributed to human error. Situational awareness develops from moment to moment and the basic perception of what is going on in the surrounding environment through observation and awareness is a key component to reduce incidents and effect the safe working environment.

A person’s situational awareness can be affected by e.g. home/family problems, fatigue, stress/workload, routine tasks, job prospects, conflicts, daydreaming etc. It is important to improve on-the-job awareness and this can be done e.g. through communication, interaction, job rotation, change of work level and training.

Informal feedback process

Surveys have shown that the biggest factor to increase performance is fair and informal feedback. Hence it is important to learn and practice giving feedback. Feedback can be used between colleagues, from superior to subordinate or visa versa. The different tools to handle feedback each have their own advantages – what they have in common is that you can use them in many other situations not relating to work, i.e. when you are relating to family and friends as well. You can often choose to give either corrective feedback or appreciative feedback. Thereby you are supporting the antecedents for good safety behaviour.

Fair and informal feedback increases performance and retention with up to 40%

Defining improvement goals

When you combine the setting of desired individual goals with the feedback given you set a clear target for the employee to aim at. Setting goals show the employee that you are interested in the individual, and that you support commitment and mutual understanding. Clear and defined goals are also a large performance driver.

Follow-up on goal attainment

In order to ensure that the defined improvement goals are reached it is important to do a follow-up on the feedback given. Here you have the chance to align your expectations with the present performance according to the goals set. If the improvement goals have been reached you can support and appreciate this through your follow-up. If the set improvement goals have not been reached yet or nothing has happened in this respect, you need to identify the barriers for not reaching the set goals. By amplifying the good and managing the bad you can drive performance further.

When it comes to behaviour based safety everyone holds a leadership role

Behavioural Based Safety needs leadership

Leadership is all about making people go in a predetermined direction. As a professional in the maritime business the overall direction is set by the company and determined by company goals. Other goals are being set in the daily environment and when talking about behaviour based safety everyone has a leadership role to fill. You take on the role of the leader when you lead by example with the intention of having your colleagues to behave in a similar manner. In the understanding of the role as a good role model – a good safety behaviour leader – it is important to remember that the colleagues you affect are at the same organisational level as yourself, but you affect colleagues on levels above and below as well. Everyone holds a leadership role when it comes to exhibiting and influencing good safety behaviour.

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Janne Haugland
Janne Haugland
Communications and HR Manager

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