Behavior-Based Safety (BBS)

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What is Behavior-Based Safety?

In 2017, there were more than 5,000 fatal work injuries and nearly three million nonfatal workplace injuries. The surface causes of these incidents are usually obvious but knowing the surface cause will not typically stop the incident from happening again.

Safety manager behavior-based safety

The best way to prevent an incident from repeating itself is to utilize behavior-based safety (BBS), which examines the overall safety of your workplace. Its aim is to focus attention on the daily behaviors of the workers. BBS works to determine the root causes of unsafe behaviors and the best route to improve them.

Behavior-based safety acknowledges that employees often work in less-than-perfect conditions and will be forced to make choices between working safely or taking unsafe shortcuts. To combat this, BBS looks at the interaction between three major variables in the workplace: the person, the work environment and the behavior.

  • “Person” represents the general experience and the physical capabilities of employees
  • “Work environment” is the controls, workplace and general company culture
  • “Behavior” is how employees interact with their workplace and how they act while doing their duties
Employee injured at work

When one of these elements is ignored or neglected, incidents are more likely to occur.

Because behavior-based safety involves all levels of the company, it puts the responsibility for safety on everyone, not just one person or team. Everyone working together to create a safer workplace makes safety policies feel like a collaboration, which makes employees more likely to follow them. It also creates a culture that focuses on safe behaviors. With a BBS program in place, new hires will have safety as part of their training and initial impressions, rather than something they need to learn later.


Implementing a Successful Behavior-Based Safety Program

There are four major components that make up a successful behavior-based safety program:

Observation Checklists Feedback Goals

In addition to these four elements, there must also be a company-wide desire to implement a BBS program. Without open communication and a shared interest, it is likely that employees will feel the program is just another directive from management. On the other hand, if leadership does not believe a BBS program will be successful, they may not take employee feedback seriously.

Because behavior-based safety is about correcting unsafe behavior before it causes an incident, observing how employees do their duties is the first step. Observers need to be employees who have training in conducting on-site safety reviews, are experienced in the tasks they are observing and should be respected by their co-workers.

Behavior-Based Safety Practices

Observation periods need to be announced to employees ahead of time so they are not perceived as a “trap.” A checklist can help guide the employee conducting the observation. For example, in a driving observation, the checklist might include the use of seatbelts or turn signals and make note of any distractors. For a job requiring exposure to oil-based paint, it could include the use of respirators or other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Feedback should be given both during and after the observation. During an observation, feedback is important because praising good behavior as it happens encourages people to continue those practices. Similarly, the observer may want to interrupt and correct unwanted or unsafe behavior as they see it happen to help break bad habits.

BBS Observation Feedback

After the observation is complete and all feedback has been given, the observer should send notes from the observation to the appropriate team so actions can be taken to ensure the good behavior continues. It is important to remember the goal of a BBS program is to correct, rather than punish, unsafe behavior. One way to ensure behavior-based safety is not used for discipline is to send observation data to a BBS team of people from all levels of the company, rather than only one group.

Goals are an important part of any plan. Some example goals you might want to implement include bringing near-miss incidents down 15% by the end of the year or having 100% of employees wearing the proper PPE by the end of the quarter. Whatever you decide, each goal needs to be attainable and sustainable or else there is a risk of everyone involved becoming discouraged. Having manageable goals with a clear plan of action will make a BBS program more likely to be a success.


The root causes of incidents are not always obvious, but they are often caused in some part by one or more unsafe behaviors. Behavior-based safety, or BBS, can help to change unsafe behaviors in the workplace. SafetySkills offers a Behavior-Based Safety course to help employers and employees understand the importance of a BBS program and identify how to utilize such a program in their own workplace.

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