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BBS Winning Over Employees in India

Taj Mahal "We produce lifesaving drugs; BBS produces a lifesaving process."

--a doctor from Sandoz

Twenty-five safety awareness surveys of organizations in various locations in India reveal that the level of safety awareness among managers is within the range of 75-85 percent, and among non-managers it is within the range of 70-80 percent. Hence, a nearly 25-30 percent improvement in the safety awareness level of employees is possible.

Eighty to ninety percent of accidents are triggered by unsafe acts or behaviors. Thus there is a need to emphasize behavior-based safety (BBS). A chief safety objective of every plant is to achieve zero accidents. Because safety in the organization cannot be less than 100 percent; the participation of employees from every plant in safety also has to be not less than 100 percent. That is what BBS is all about.

We can accomplish this objective if we train every workman/employee on the concept and process of behavioral safety. But before training employees, we need to sensitize or promote the concept of BBS among the front-line managers.

Previous research indicates:

1. 90 percent or more of accidents are due to unsafe human acts or behaviors.
2. 50 percent of the unsafe behaviors are identified or noticeable at any plant at any given point of time.
3. 25-30 percent of safety awareness is lacking among employees, which gets reflected in their unsafe behaviors.
4. Unsafe behaviors are at the core of near misses, injuries, and accidents. If we control unsafe behaviors, we may not even have near misses.
5. Job satisfaction of Indian managers with safety in their respective departments ranges between 5.5 and 9.5 out of 10.

So we need to focus our efforts on unsafe and safe behaviors in safety. There is a dearth of studies on safety psychology, especially behavior-based safety. Using qualitative methods on the study of behavioral safety will broaden our understanding and provide us more depth in the field.

BBS Concepts
Behavior-based safety is concerned with correcting unsafe behaviors, and thus to reduce accidents and promote safe behaviors, developing an injury free culture in organizations. BBS touches the root causes of accidents.

BBS emphasizes that employees need to take an ownership of their safe as well as unsafe behaviors. If they behave unsafely, they are not punished; instead, they are repeatedly told to correct that behavior. And when they behave safely, they are encouraged. Both unsafe and unsafe behaviors are counted and displayed. BBS also discusses the unsafe conditions that influence unsafe behaviors.

BBS is a data-driven decision-making process. BBS believes what gets measured gets done, and each employee can make a difference in organizational safety. Employees are the basic source of expertise of behavioral change (observe and correct). BBS begins by briefing sessions for all work areas and departments.

BBS is teamwork; it is companywide and people driven. Its purpose is not to enforce safety rules, force change, gossip about others, or report to the boss. Its purpose is to identify safe and at-risk behaviors, identify the possibility for injury, communicate the risk, and help to identify safer solutions.

An implementation team or BBS steering committee monitors its progress. Essentially, BBS is not a management-driven tool for safety. It's an employee-driven approach with management support.

BBS Technique
BBS is BOFP (i.e., Behavior Observation and Feedback Process). Its process involves repeatedly going to an employee and making random observations until he reaches safe behaviors and learns the concept of self-observation and observing others for safe performance. Critical behaviors can be listed in a checklist based on previous accident and injury records and also by brainstorming. Different observers will notice different safe and unsafe behaviors, which is why employees need to observe one another.

Feedback is an interaction based on genuine concern. Feedback is to be given one on one, immediately. Specific behavior is to be reinforced and safe behavior appreciated to set an example. In Hindi language, BBS is all about dekho and bolo with sensitivity and concern. The individual name of an employee is not recorded in the BBS checklist.

Observers target observable safe and unsafe behaviors of co-workers. Observation and couching may take some time to be accepted by co-workers. Observation and feedback skills improve with practice and by using checklists. Observation sampling should be undertaken randomly (not on a fixed schedule) throughout the week. Safety coaching fosters open communication about safety, which serves as a constant reminder for workplace safety.


This study involved a qualitative survey of 1,500 executives and 400 workers based on in-depth personal interviews and a structured questionnaire using open-ended questions in a period of 10 years between 1997 and 2007 across Indian organizations (including petroleum, steel, cement, chemicals, etc.) in 55 organizations, in order to review BBS in organizations.

The managers and workers were asked to narrate their safety experiences. They took time out of their really busy and hectic schedule to share their safety-related problems and issues. A narrative approach was attempted in this survey in order to enrich the safety research.

Survey findings

BBS is one of the best and latest safety approaches. Research indicates BBS has reduced accident rates by 40-75 percents within six months to one year of its implementation. In India, industrial groups such as Essar, ITC, Reliance, CFCL, Colortex, Sandoz, Ultratech, GAIL, RKHS, ICC, NPC, Jindal, Bayer CropScience, M & M, and Tata Motors are implementing BBS in different ways. Eight aspects of behavioral categories that have been used by these organizations to prevent unsafe behaviors and promote safe behaviors are:

• Housekeeping
• Using tools and equipment
• Body positioning/protecting
• Material handling
• Communication
• Following procedures
• Visual focusing

With the help of a checklist (Table 1), BBS-trained observers create data on the above eight critical behaviors to guide their observations. Each observer observes at least one of his co-workers daily. (A minimum of 20 percent of the employees in a department/organization should be trained as BBS observers. If there are 100 persons in a department, there should be 20 observers.) So accordingly, this many checklists are created per day on unsafe and safe behaviors in the organization. This way, safety becomes a daily reminder which in essence builds a safety culture. We can almost daily check an increase or decrease in unsafe and safe behaviors by creating this database.

Some characteristics of BBS observers are: They have concern for others, self-initiation for correcting the observee, developing mutual insight on safe behaviors, and transforming the observee for self-observation on safe behavior.

Table 1. Observers need a checklist of critical behaviors to guide their observations.

Observer _____________________ Date __________

Department/Job __________________ Time ___________

Behavior Categories Safe At Risk Comments
PPE: Using PPE (e.g., eyewear, hearing protection, gloves, hard hat

Housekeeping: Work area maintained appropriately (e.g., trash and scrap picked up, no spills, walkways unobstructed, materials and tools organized

Using tools and equipment: Using correct tools for the job, using tools properly, and tool in good condition

Body positioning/protecting: Positioning/protecting body parts (e.g., avoiding line of fire, avoiding pinch points)

Material handling: (e.g., body mechanics while lifting, pushing and pulling, use of assist devices)

Communication: Verbal and non-verbal interactions that affect safety

Following procedures: (e.g., obtaining, complying with permits, following SOPs, lockout/tagout procedures)

Visual focusing: (attentiveness)

What Does an Organization Gain from Actively Caring?
An actively caring (listening, praising, acceptance) is one of the significant aspects of BBS. One needs to understand what an organization and its people gain from actively caring. Here are some responses of the survey participants:

• Positive safety culture
• Increase in production
• Job satisfaction
• Love and affection
• Bonding
• Ownership
• Teamwork
• Confidence
• Fearlessness
• Actively care
• Feeling to help
• Joy
• Openness
• Decrease in unsafe acts
• Positive response

All of the above responses clearly indicate BBS helps in enhancing safety awareness and building useful attitudes toward safety, thereby building positive safety culture in organizations.

Problems in Observing and Giving Feedback
There are some problems in observing and giving feedback, as shared by the survey participants:

1. Handing over checklist to observee and asking him to do the job.
2. Only observing, not giving feedback.
3. Two observees may not agree with each other.
4. Observer may not allow an observee to speak.
5. Comments column kept blank.
6. Only criticism, not appreciation.
7. Inadequate time for BOFP.
8. Observee behaves smarter, does not accept observer.

Why a BBS observer may fail in the observation and feedback process:

• An aggressive way of responding
• Giving feedback in front of others
• He himself not following safe operating procedures (SOPs).
• Improper communication and responding skills.
• Incorrect way to pass feedback.
• Lack of cordial relations.
• Lack of knowledge about the job of an observee.
• Lack of patience to correct an observee.
• Mentioning the person instead of the unsafe behavior.
• No proper follow-up.
• Personal grudge.
• Superiority complex.
• Unable to convey that we are concerned about an injury-free culture.

While taking care of the above points, a BBS observer should not formalize too much on the observation and feedback process; he should not dominate. An observer should be flexible and sensitive enough to interact with an observee.

Problems in Developing a BBS Checklist
There are some problems in developing the checklist and in observing and giving feedback. The participants who attended BBS training workshops pointed out some:

1. Behavior categories not mentioned;
2. Checkpoints not mentioned in behavioral terms, such as using and avoiding;
3. Some behavior categories could have been grouped, such as work area and housekeeping, body mechanics, and ergonomics;
4. Checklist not appropriately developed, and some behavior categories ignored.

As for problems the participants foresaw when implementing BBS in their organizations, they responded this way:

• Overstressed, the observer may feel that his workload has increased.
• What will I get? The observer may feel he would get too little in return.
• Will the observee take it in the right spirit?
• Fear of workers' buy-in to BBS;
• Taking advantage of BBS; not doing regular work;
• Remove the existing unsafe conditions first;
• Integrating BBS with other committees in organization;
• Manpower/extra-time for BBS;
• Huge amount of documentation;
• Interpersonal communication; and
• Launching problem in introducing BBS.

Writing an Action Plan
The following action plan is desirable in launching BBS:

1. Secure a commitment from management.
2. Train employees across the plant.
3. Select and train observers from among BBS-trained employees;
4. Form a steering committee of 8-10 people from among BBS-trained employees.

Steering Committee Responsibilities
1. Develop checklists.
2. Select areas/departments for Behavior Observation and Feedback Process.
3. Develop timetable.
4. Document, analyze, and display.
5. Review to determine progress.
6. Allocate time for BBS observations and meetings, etc.

BBS Implementation
BBS is by the people, of the people, and for the people. It is based on the established principles of behavior theory in Psychology. The implementation of behavioral safety project gets started with every department the day after it completes one day of training on BBS. The concept and process of BBS has quick application and is easily understood by people at every level.

Every department can produce a graph of unsafe and safe behaviors of its workers every week and every month. With these, you can compare the decrease in unsafe behaviors and increase in safe behaviors, month by month. Every quarter of the year, all departments can be compared on unsafe and safe behaviors of their workers or operators.

BBS implementation problems include lack of workforce buy-in; unsafe behaviors not defined with precision; and accident records/near miss injuries not analyzed properly for targeting accident-causing behaviors. The secret of BBS success is that the safety control is in hands of each employee; the workers feel empowered and responsible. BBS' speed of success depends upon existing injury/accident rates and readiness to implement it. Success depends upon a strong steering team that clearly defines its roles and responsibilities.

Behavioral safety management support and leadership of first line and senior managers can be measured quantitatively. Management allows observers time to conduct observation tours, conduct feedback session, and organize data analysis to display, without which BBS will fail. People are asked to volunteer to either become observers or be a part of steering team. These people carry out responsibilities/duties.

An Indian Experience on Behavior-Based Safety
BBS India in the past 15 years has conducted nearly 200 BBS workshops in Indian locations in diverse sectors. Every organization has introduced and customized BBS as per its cultural background. Some organizations first exposed their senior management to BBS concept, process, and implementation, then took the concept down the levels. Others started with bottom-level employees and contract workers. Some other organizations exposed their middle management and non-managerial employees together.

Some organizations have introduced train the trainer programs, then these in-house trainers have trained other employees in various departments. Practically, a one-day BBS workshop in organizations has helped the participants to know the concept, process, and implementation. The next step is to identify BBS observers, then train them thoroughly on the Behavior Observation Feedback Process. About 20 percent of employees in each department are trained as BBS observers. A one-day review after a month by the BBS master trainer helps refine the process.

BBS starts giving results very quickly. Forming an in-house BBS core committee has been useful in coordinating BBS activity and progress.

BBS has shown positive results in terms of reducing unsafe behaviors, promoting safe behaviors, and creating a safety culture in Indian organizations. BBS has provided better accident prevention practices than before. BBS exposure for employees has been an enriching and refreshing experience. Understanding the fact that in order to prevent near misses at workplaces, we need to tackle unsafe/at-risk behaviors through a BBS approach first. With the inclusion of behavioral aspects in the OHSAS 18001:2007 standard as safety compliance, Indian organizations have taken BBS seriously in its training applications.

Engineering solutions have been achieved to a great extent in organizations, but behavioral engineering in managing safety is a much bigger challenge to learn.

To reduce accidents, managements have used safety interventions such as risk assessment, training, suggestion schemes, safety committee, auditing, motivational programs (quizzes, awards, and incentives), SOPs, plant inspections, work permit systems, and more. Most of these safety management systems have aimed at controlling unsafe conditions, whereas 80-95 percent of accidents are triggered by unsafe acts or behaviors.

People behave unsafely because it saves their time and effort (taking shortcuts or not using PPE, for example). Environmental solutions don't work as effectively because people may remove guards and practice bad housekeeping. Punishment may lead to positive or negative effects. Attitude change does not help much; it does not really convert into behavior. So BBS can be tried for better safety results. BBS is based on behavior theory, which assumes unsafe behavior to be changed and safe behavior to be reinforced require repeated external stimuli, which is provided through BOFP.

BBS underlines that workers are taking active responsibility for the safety of one another; targeting observable behaviors; focusing on positive consequences we expect to receive (i.e., change an unsafe to a safe behavior); and monitoring behavioral trends of each individual or group every day/week/month in order to understand the percentage of safe and at-risk behaviors across departments during the years.

If PPE is not being used by 50-60 percent of employees, it's an unsafe behavior, but it's also a system failure because it does not take action against the violation of PPE policy. Total safety culture encompasses that safety mechanisms are in place and active, and then implementing BBS gives wonderful results. According to a senior safety professional, "Punishment never works for sustainable results for safety in organizations." Another said, "BBS is going to be one of the best components of safety in the years to come." According to another senior safety professional, "You may have operational controls at the workplace, you may have told employees [to strive] for safety; human beings still meet with accidents due to unsafe behaviors." BBS believes psychological change can be achieved with repeated and active care of one another. BBS emphasizes that when 80-90 percent of accidents and injuries are due to unsafe behaviors, let's focus on unsafe as well as safe behaviors more than the unsafe conditions. Behavior is objective, definable, observable, correctable, and measurable.

The BBS approach needs a visible presence and a clear management adoption and open communication down the line for its launch. If these are lacking, it is difficult to succeed.

OHSAS 18001:2007, clause 4.3.1 (Planning Hazard identification, risk assessment and determining controls) reads that the organization shall establish, implement and maintain the procedure(s) for hazard identification and risk assessment that shall take into account human behavior, capabilities, and other human factors.

OHSAS 18001:2007 includes in OH&S management systems: participation and consultation section that the organization shall establish, implement and maintain a procedure(s) for: the participation of workers by their appropriate involvement in hazard identification, risk assessments and determination of controls.

OHSAS 18001:2007, clause 4.4.2 (Competence, training and awareness) states that the organization shall establish, implement and maintain a procedure(s) to make persons working under its control aware of: the OH&S consequences, actual or potential, of their work activities, their behavior, and the OH&S benefits of improved personal performance.

BBS has included the above OHSAS 18001:2007 compliances in its training applications.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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