NSC Journal Study Seeks Enhanced Workplace Safety Approach

A new study in the National Safety Council's Journal of Safety Research advances the field and effective use of behavioral safety by identifying key knowledge gaps that warrant additional research. The study, by Oliver Wirth, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Sigurdur Oli Sigurdsson, pinpoints areas where increased data can enhance behavior-based injury-prevention interventions and improve occupational safety and health.

"Behavioral safety" is becoming more popular as safety practitioners seek to better understand and develop strategies to prevent workplace injuries. Behavioral safety is the science of observing workers' behaviors to determine where a different behavior or set of behaviors may have prevented or lessened the severity of injury. The study defines behavioral safety as an approach to improve safety performance through peer observations, goal setting, feedback, and celebrations or incentives for reaching safety goals.

The study recommends using behavioral safety as part of holistic safety programs that address psychological, social, engineering, and organizational factors. Yet the authors conclude that factors impacting the effectiveness of behavior-based interventions need to be better understood.

Areas recommended for research include the:

  • Impact of behavioral safety interventions on rates of injury, illness, and fatalities.
  • Appropriateness of the basic elements of behavioral safety across different industry sectors.
  • Relationship between behavioral safety and a greater safety culture.
  • Role of performance feedback in creating behavioral change.
  • Effectiveness of tangible and non-tangible rewards on behavioral change.

In the United States alone, the workplace accounted for 3.7 million injuries and 4,988 deaths in 2006.

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