Using BBS in Training Programs

Behavior-based safety is providing new tools for safety professionals and shows the promise of dramatically improved results in the decade ahead.

The study of behavior is in the field of Psychology. Workplace safety has been a longstanding concern of industry. During the past 10 years, the two areas have been combined and researched.

The field of Industrial/Organizational Psychology has grown since World War I. The understanding of organizational structure has enlightened on the issue of workplace injuries and illnesses. Previously, management examined the number of injuries occurring and focused on how to reduce those numbers. Fearing retribution, employees may not have reported their injuries, in order to keep the reported numbers low. Management was not focusing on why the injuries occurred, or even necessarily how to prevent them from ever occurring again.

There has been a steady decline in the number of workplace injuries and illnesses in the past decade. As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2000, 1.7 million injuries and illnesses required recuperation away from work beyond the day of the incident. Six out of 10 injured workers had at least one year of service, and almost one-fourth had more than five years of service, suggesting that many experienced workers incur lost worktime injuries (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002).

"Actively Caring" is one of the main components to having a successful BBS program.

According to the BLS, two out of three of the 1.7 million lost worktime cases involved men. Fifty-five percent of the 1.7 million were workers between the ages of 25 and 44. Forty-one percent of lost worktime incidents incurred were by operators, fabricators, and laborers. Six days was the median lost workdays for all cases in 2000, with more than one-fourth of cases resulting in 21 days or more away from work.

More than 1 million incidents in 2000 did not cause lost worktime but did result in restricted work activity. Between 1972 and 1993, employer costs for providing worker's compensation rose from $6 billion to $57 billion, an annual growth rate of 12.5 percent (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 2002).

According to the BLS, "The number of injuries and illnesses in a given year can be influenced by changes in the level of economic activity, working conditions and work practices, worker experience and training, and the number of hours worked. Case characteristics may help identify the disabling condition leading to lost worktime and how the event or exposure occurred."

The work environment influences employee attitudes and perceptions of safety, and therefore it results in behaviors that affect safety. Employers should explore the nature and number of their workplace incidents, then implement more efficient training to their workers either in technical skills or behavioral safety skills. Such a process would ensure improved safety behavior.

The BBS Model
One type of effective training that ensures improved safety behavior is the Behavior-Based Safety Model. The advantage to the BBS model in controlling the injury rate is that it can be administrated by individuals who have limited professional training. Additionally, it can get to the heart of the problem by directly reaching those employees where the problems occur. Leaders of the organization can be taught the BBS techniques that are specific to their needs. BBS can be cost effective as well, because the change interventions can be easy to administer and their impact can be monitored on a regular basis by the employees within the organization.

DePasquale and Geller (1999) used focus group data to evaluate the success factors of BBS. They distributed a perception survey to their subjects to predict their involvement in the behavior-based process. The researchers found five variables were significantly predictive of employee involvement in a BBS process:

Figure 1

Predictive Variables of Employee Involvement in BBS

1. Perceptions that the BBS training was effective.

2. Trust in management's abilities.

3. Accountability for BBS through performance appraisals.

4. Whether or not one had received education in BBS.

5. The employee's tenure with the organization.

"Actively Caring" is one of the main components to having a successful BBS program. Roberts and Geller (1995) conducted a study to assess the relationship between self-esteem, group cohesion, and optimism with employees' self reports of willingness to actively care (AC). The level of "Active Caring" in an industrial setting may be enhanced by the act of constantly being on the lookout for any environmental hazards and unsafe work practices, and then implementing the appropriate corrective action when these unsafe behaviors or conditions are observed. Researchers found that self-esteem, group cohesion, and optimism scores predicted significant and independent variance in AC, thereby supporting the AC model.

Case studies have supported BBS training's successes, but more supportive evidence is needed.

Applying BBS to Safety
These findings are a useful foundation for implementing a workplace safety program. This genre of training is an evolving process, one that will be changing and molding to the times, as well as to the work environment. After speaking with some employees from the Connecticut Department of Labor, it is thought that even the Occupational Safety & Health Administration is realizing BBS may be a new way to reduce injury rates.

Focusing on reducing workplace injury rate has proven to be ineffective in improving safety behavior, and BBS training appears to be an effective model. It is believed that once there are some strong experimental data on the effects BBS has on reducing at-risk work behavior; once OSHA endorses it, every organization will at least try to implement it through its safety programs.

The rate of workplace injury will continue to decline with the increase of safety awareness in the industry. Experimental studies on the effects BBS has on increasing workplace safety need to be conducted in order for the industry to be more aware of this genre of training.

Case studies have supported BBS training's successes, but more supportive evidence is needed. We can expect BBS will have a dramatically positive influence on workplace safety in the next decade and beyond.

This article appears in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety

This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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