Hand Safety Spotlight

Behavior Based Safety Programs: Addressing Workplace Safety Issues

The oil and gas industry is a crucial part of global economy, even though it is one of the most hazardous industries in the world. Common incidents in industrial sectors (like oil and gas, heavy construction and manufacturing) include transportation accidents (truck, rail, ship and pipeline), physical contact injuries (e.g., struck by incidents), fire and explosion, chemical or toxic material exposure, and common slips, trips and falls.

Personal safety has always been a major topic of discussion in the oil and gas industry. But what does "personal safety" really mean for the individual or the employer? How can we put personal safety back in the hands of workers?

Implementing behavior-based safety programs can reduce the number of workplace accidents and incidents. These programs are company driven, yet they place the power directly in the hands of each individual employee.

What Is Behavior-Based Safety?

Front line employees and C-suite level management of oilfield businesses are constantly on the lookout for factors that threaten the safety of their personnel. Keep in mind, however, that good and bad safety practices are the result of individual behavior; procedural safety can only go so far.

Looking into and tending workers’ conduct will help identify indicators and discover solutions for accidents and incidents that may typically occur in a facility. Are your work practices individual traits, or is the behavior you observe the result of a larger cultural problem in your organization?

Behavior-based safety looks into behavioral patterns in an organization – in this case, an oil and gas facility, rig, offshore platform or other remote site to improve personal safety in the workplace. Behavior-based safety programs include comprehensive research into unsafe behavior and reported or recorded incidents and injuries. As a result of this effort, management can define necessary behavioral (or culture) changes to eliminate hazards and prevent incidents and injuries in the future.

What Acts and Conditions Affect Workplace Safety?

Research published in 2012 about the concept of behavior-based safety programs found that accidents do not "just happen" without basis. Accidents and incidents occur because of unsafe actions and conditions that deviate from general, recognized safety guidelines (also related to procedural discipline). These actions and conditions may include:

  • Inadequate facility or equipment maintenance
  • Mechanical failure due to improper design or use of a tool or equipment
  • Inability to execute a task (lack of training, education or other knowledge-based failure)
  • Insufficient or misused safety equipment
  • Insufficient or non-existent ergonomic design
  • Physical stress due to the working environment
  • General atmosphere in the workplace (culture issues)
  • Lack of personal fulfillment with the job
  • Shift reassignment that affects daily routine (e.g., short-change)

These potentially unsafe working conditions and practices show that human factors inevitably affect workplace safety. It doesn’t matter how comprehensive your company’s safety guidelines are or how systematic the operational process is. You also have to look into the way your people execute the guidelines and processes.

The only way to understand how employees follow corporate and regional processes and procedures is through frequent site visits. It is also necessary to train field managers to observe employee behavior while they run the operations of their facilities.

How Does Worker Attitude Affect Workplace Safety?

Your facilities may have stringent safety policies with an incident-free history. But when it comes to safety, past success is not always a quality indicator of future results, nor does it guarantee an incident-free workplace in the days and months to come. It all boils down to workers’ initiative to follow safety guidelines (assuming those guidelines are continuously updated and improved) and their desire to do what is right each and every time they come on tour or do a job.

Workplace safety attitude (that is, safety culture) is an important aspect of any organization. It refers to employees' tendency to respond positively or negatively to a safety program. More directly, it refers to workers' personal initiative to react a certain way toward a certain safety goal, plan, procedure or situation.

A positive safety attitude means constantly working toward an accident-free workplace. It means employees' beliefs and behavior are in line with your company's targets and they will follow the processes and procedures to help the organization reach those targets. Accordingly, employees have the motivation to maintain high efficiency, work quality and morale without compromising safety.

On the other hand, a negative workplace safety attitude refers to employees' tendencies to stick to their own reasoning, probably without regard for the company’s safety procedures or without thinking about the negative potential outcome of their actions. A negative attitude affects workplace safety and the company’s overall productivity and profitability.

For this reason, it is imperative for front-line managers to closely monitor the behavior of personnel and take action when at-risk behaviors are identified.

Why Is the Behavior-Based Approach Effective in Maintaining Workplace Safety?

Companies in any industry cannot control the way employees think or adopt guidelines and processes. What company leaders can do, however, is help employees understand the importance of adopting positive and proactive behavior toward workplace safety.

Give employees training around safe work practices, and allow them time to conduct thorough risk assessments before they start their work. After every job, they should conduct after-action reviews and capture lessons learned.

Empowering employees to do what is right will reinforce their understanding that personal safety is a corporate standard and a condition of employment.

Your personnel are more likely to embrace safety procedures and act on them based on these factors:

  • Beliefs: This cognitive factor refers to people’s convictions and what they believe to be true.
  • Attitudes: This affective factor refers to people’s perspective and position about something.
  • Actions: This behavioral factor refers to people’s inclination to act in accordance with their beliefs and attitudes.

Human factors such as individual beliefs, personality and attitudes will inevitably affect the way your personnel work. These factors affect their working behavior, which greatly influences their willingness and ability to observe safety procedures. Simply put, people’s outlooks have a direct impact on their actions.

Instead of trying to change the way your workers do things, it is best to educate them from the get-go. If this is a wake up call and you need to change the way you operate, then you must strive to first change your employees' beliefs about safety.

Beliefs are not easy to change. Company culture takes a long time to build, and it requires unwavering devotion. As hard as a positive safety culture is to build, it can be destroyed in no time by a small minority, if that minority controls the standard of work and sets the expectation for how work is done.

Starting down the path of behavior-based safety improvement is not difficult, but it takes effort on the part of your management team.

First, look into past behaviors, determine which areas are lacking and think of the most suitable changes for your employees. Help them understand the intentions and importance of your safety guidelines. This is a major contributing factor in their decision to stick to your safety processes and procedures.

In other words, you will have an easier time preventing injuries with behavior-based safety programs that tap into employees' specific concerns. These programs look into the human side of workplace safety, effectively driving your point home.

How Do Behavior-Based Safety Programs Work?

Behavior-based safety focuses on the human side of safety. It looks into the employees’ working attitudes and behaviors rather than on the processes that they follow. Additionally, behavior-based safety defines safe and unsafe behaviors, encouraging safe actions and discouraging unsafe or destructive actions.

When you want to establish a behavior-based safety program, you will need to gather data about your personnel and the incidents that occur in the workplace. Follow these steps when implementing behavior-based safety:

  • Choose target behaviors for assessment by reviewing past accident and incident reports.
  • Create an evaluation checklist that covers every aspect of behavioral-based safety issues, including safety protocols and procedures that your employees should be following.
  • Develop a measurable system that records the frequency of safe behaviors as well as of unsafe or risky behaviors.
  • Foster a constant observation culture that evaluates and measures your workers' day-to-day behavior, especially around workplace safety guidelines.
  • Offer immediate and objective feedback about safe practices and instances of unsafe behavior.

In addition to these steps for an effective behavior-based safety program, set improvement goals so that employees know which types of behavior they need to work on. These goals can be something as simple as making sure all workers are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) – the right gloves for the job, FR clothing and adequate fall protection. You’ll be surprised at how effective these seemingly minor adjustments can be in fostering workplace safety.

For more information about building a positive safety culture, keep checking our blog, or you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter by filling out the form to the right of this post.

We are dedicated to improving the safety of each and every person working in hazardous environments around the world. If you have more specific PPE needs, please feel free to get in touch with us today.


Category: Blog, HSE, Safety, Behavior, Personnel