By William Atkinson
When it comes to workplace safety, a lot of people believe that virtually all responsibility for employee safety lies with employers. However, common sense dictates that employees themselves must take some responsibility. Greg Daugherty, southeast region safety and health manager for Hanson Pipe & Products Inc., Green Cove Springs, Fla., puts it this way: “It is the employer’s responsibility to provide training, tools and equipment to create a safe workplace. It is the employee’s responsibility to use the training, tools and equipment to work safely.”
Of course, there will be times when employees don’t always follow the rules. “The proper way to deal with these situations is to sit down with the employee to refresh and re-emphasize the company philosophy, rules, policies and procedures,” says Daugherty. “In our company, if employees still won’t work safely, we do them a favor and send them home before they get hurt.”
Steve Wolszczenski, director of safety and human resources for Terre Hill Concrete Products Inc., Lebanon, Pa., also maintains that employees have responsibility for safety. “The bottom- line responsibility for safety comes to the individual level,” he says. “We want everyone to be accountable for safety so that the program works at a grassroots level, and we work with everyone to build that accountability.”
The big questions, of course, are how to make it clear to employees that they have certain levels of responsibility for safety and how to train them to assume and execute that responsibility. One strategy to consider is behavior-based safety (BBS). The basis of BBS involves training workers to formally observe their co-workers and then provide feedback to them on whether they are engaging in safe or unsafe work behaviors.
While early BBS proponents focused only on the role of behavior in accidents, many of their counterparts focused on the roles of attitudes and “workplace culture.” Others began investigating the role of “systems” (inherent problems in how work was done that could lead to accidents, regardless of how safe workers wanted to be).
“I came up with the term behavior-based safety in 1979, and other consultants then began using it,” recalls Dr. E. Scott Geller, senior partner with Safety Performance Solutions in Blacksburg, Va., a leading BBS consulting firm. According to Geller, BBS became increasingly popular in the 1990s. Many consultants began using the terminology to promote their own approaches, such as a culture approach or an attitude approach. As such, Geller recently began calling what he does “people-based safety.” He says BBS actually is a culture change strategy, though. It provides tools that workers can use to change relationships, change culture and improve behavior. “It gets workers to think differently,” he says.
Geller notes that there are two ways to get people to change. One is to target their attitudes, which can then lead to behavior change. The other is to get them to change their behavior, which will influence their attitudes. “When dealing with individuals, the first approach works fine,” he explains. “However, when you start dealing with groups, it’s far more efficient and effective to start with behavior. This doesn’t mean, though, that you disregard their attitudes.” Geller’s “people-based safety” begins with changing people’s behavior then helping them own these behavior changes, which eventually lead to changes in attitudes.
Another high-profile BBS consulting firm is Behavior Science Technology (BST) in Ojai, Calif. BST, like Geller’s firm, also talks more about culture change and less about BBS than it did in its early years. “Culture change requires a comprehensive effort, including addressing leadership behavior,” explains Andrew Gilman, manager of marketing and communications. A successful BBS initiative, according to BST, requires involvement of senior management, middle management, supervisors and line workers.
BST suggests that there are four elements to BBS. The first is to identify critical behaviors. “By digging into a sample of recent accident reports, a site can determine the critical behaviors that need to be addressed,” says Gilman. Second, gather data upstream (before accidents occur) using peer-based observations, self-observations, etc. Third, provide feedback.
“When feedback is relevant to the actual behaviors, it becomes a powerful consequence for behaviors,” says Gilman. “In other words, the feedback can reinforce desired behaviors and identify at-risk behaviors.” Finally, use data to remove barriers.
BST believes that few at-risk behaviors are caused by workers simply choosing to work unsafely. In fact, there are three types of behaviors. Enabled behavior is fully within the control of the employee, such as climbing stairs with railings but not holding onto the railings. Difficult behavior is within the control of the employee with extra effort, such as workers needing face shields but having to travel to the far end of the plant to access them. Non-Enabled behavior is not within the control of the employee, such as stairs with no railings for employees to grab onto. “With Enabled behaviors, feedback is a powerful mechanism for change,” says Gilman. “Difficult and Non-Enabled behaviors indicate that more problem solving is required.”
One consultant who likes to focus on something other than BBS is Donald J. Eckenfelder, principal consultant with Profit Protection Consultants in Glen Falls, N.Y. Prior to starting his own firm, Eckenfelder was a safety executive for more than 20 years. Eckenfelder believes that behavior is important. However, it is important to focus on things other than just behavior in order to ensure a safe workplace.
Eckenfelder has concluded that safety is primarily a cultural issue. “It has to do with how people interact with each other and how they perceive things,” he says. His belief is that if you get the culture right, you get safety right. That is, what you believe determines your culture; your culture determines your attitudes; your attitudes determine your behavior; and your behavior determines your performance. “The solution to safety problems is to win the hearts and souls of people,” emphasizes Eckenfelder. “You have to change them from the inside out, not from the outside in. You can do this only by focusing on the culture.”
Thomas A. Smith, president of Mocal Inc. in Lake Orion, Mich., a safety consulting firm, used BBS 25 years ago. However, he has since begun to realize that systems may play a more important role in ensuring safety. Smith’s approach is to focus on systems thinking: simplify and improve processes. Once you create a work process that is inherently safe, it will be easier for employees to work safely. If the work process is naturally fraught with dangers or other requirements that cause employees to place themselves at risk, injuries will not decline.
The challenges and cost of implementation
With consultants promoting safety improvement through topics like behavior, culture and systems, the question becomes whether employers can implement these strategies on their own, whether they can purchase relatively inexpensive “off the shelf” behavior-based or culture-based safety programs, or whether they actually need to hire consultants to implement these initiatives.
According to BST’s Gilman, a ballpark figure for a comprehensive program for a 500-employee plant would be about $80,000. The company rarely works with small employers. “For many clients, though, payback happens within the first year,” he states. Eckenfelder has found that a lot of companies have been implementing programs targeting behavior on their own for years, and it doesn’t cost them much at all.
So can companies implement BBS on their own?
A number of small companies in several industries have done so successfully, and there is no reason that precast companies can’t do the same. The key, though, is to create a culture that will support the concept.
“BBS does make a lot of sense,” says Daugherty. However, there may be some limitations for some precast employers. For example, Daugherty says it requires many changes in personalities and behaviors, especially for employees who have been doing things the same way for years. “It is hard to make them agree to be their brother’s keeper,” he points out. Second, BBS may not be able to succeed in workplaces with high turnover.
“It also probably won’t be successful in places where employees change job positions frequently, going from one part of the plant to the other, where they aren’t working with the same people all the time,” he adds. In other words, it would be difficult to get a worker to become comfortable being his brother’s keeper with people he doesn’t know well.
Some precast employers don’t utilize formal BBS, but they do use many of its philosophies. “Most accidents are caused by unsafe acts, so you want to change employee behaviors so they don’t commit those acts,” notes Terre Hill Concrete’s Wolszczenski. “It requires communication while the work is being done to make sure the crew avoids those unsafe acts.” Wolszczenski has found that if accountability is in place in all levels – management, supervisory and production – there is a higher chance for success. “If everyone has expectations, they work to meet these expectations,” he explains. “The key is that you have to maintain consistency.”
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