What Are The Alternatives to Behavior Based Safety

Recent post by Phil La Duke, long time opponent of the flawed BBS process. read more of Phil’s work HERE 

What Are The Alternatives to Behaviour Based Safety

Last week I posted yet another criticism of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) and it drew the following comment

“Good morning Phil I hope all is well. The argument for and against Behavior-Based Safety is as old as the first implemented methodologies, yet it still persists in many different beneficial and strange forms. Some refer to incentive schemes as BBS, others just a psychology-based approach as BBS and others watch a video, read an article and attempt to make it work with widely ranging results on culture and performance. I believe BBS to be a situationally-appropriate tool for a small aspect of safety. Moreover, it should be a tool focused on better understanding performance and the influences on it, than an awareness or accountability mechanism. The latter tends to cause some of the problems you write about and I have seen as well. Rather than perpetuating the continuous critique, I would sincerely be interested in reviewing the specifics of the methodology/approach/tool you propose that will accomplish the same results in the small aspect of safety BBS benefits. Would you please share?”

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to share the alternatives to BBS. But this is no easy feat—first of all, as this comment suggests, there is far from a single source of truth that defines BBS and its elements. Before we can discuss the relative effectiveness of BBS we need to agree as to exactly what constitutes “effectiveness” of a safety management system.  The criteria I will use are:

  • Cost
  • Effort
  • Sustainability
  • Value

Most of the purveyors of BBS agree that the following are elements of a comprehensive Behavioral Safety management system:

  • Evaluation of Worker Behavior Using Checklists.

Trying to find a competitive system involves some modification of the behavioral observation.  Personally, I reject the idea that people get hurt because they knowingly and consciously behave in ways that put them in jeopardy.  I am supported in this belief by Joseph T. Hallinan, author of the book Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things In Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Well Above Average; David Marx author of Whack A Mole—The Price We Pay For Expecting Perfection; and Zachary Shore the author of Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions. Putting this philosophic difference aside, conducting periodic reviews of the work area that focuses on all the hazards instead of focusing on purely (or even chiefly on) behaviors is far more likely to lower the risk of process failures which not only endanger workers but also puts quality, through-put, and production at risk. What alternative is there to BBS? Several tools come to mind:

  1. Layered Process Audits. Layered Process Audits are checks conducted by various levels of management.  The primary purpose is to ensure that the process as performed conforms to the process requirements. Part of the Layered Process Audit system is the verification that all mistake proofing protections are in place and operational.  This is essentially an improved version of the behavioral observations that requires less effort, is far less costly, is relatively easy to sustain, and ultimately returns far more value than the behavioral observation.
  2. Kaizen Events. Kaizen events are ad hoc activities designed to improve the efficiency of the work area. Kaizen events involve the workers in the area who participate in improvements by identifying and eliminating sources of waste—including those things that are likely to cause injuries.
  3. 5S Audits. 5S is a powerful tool designed to reduce process variation and make the work area more efficient and safer. It involves simple workplace reorganization that sorts, sets in order, scours, standardizes, and sustains improvements in the workplace.


Phil LaDuke

Phil LaDuke

Principle and Partner at ERM
Phil LaDuke
Phil La Duke is a principle and partner in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services. With over 140 offices in 40 countries and nearly 6,000 top professionals, ERM can help you wherever you find yourself doing business. At ERM we are committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality to create value for our clients. Over the past five years we have worked for more than 50% of the Global Fortune 500 delivering innovative solutions for business and selected government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing. Phil works primarily in the Performance and Assurance practice at ERM; a speaker, author, consultant, trainer, provocateur…Phil La Duke wears many hats. As an expert in safety, training, organizational development, and culture change, Phil and ERM can help you motivate your workforce, conduct safety performance assessments, help you to build robust training infrastructures, craft interventions to improve how your work place values safety, provide insights to your executive staff, and craft and execute business solutions. If you’re interested in what Phil La Duke and ERM can do for you, or if you would like to inquire about employment opportunites at ERM, contact Phil at phil.laduke@erm.com

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