Eradicate the Real Cause of Incidents with Behaviour-Based Safety Observations

As HSE professionals know, you can spend all the money and time in the world making the conditions of your facility as safe as possible, but if you don’t change behaviour, people will find a way to make incidents occur. 

Studies confirming this anecdote go all the way back to the early 1930s where Herbert William Heinrich of Traveller’s Insurance reported that over 90% of all accidents, injuries, and illnesses were the result of what he called “worker errors.” In the 70s, HSE managers at P&G coined the term “Behaviour-based Safety” and started taking a hard look at the behaviour that was causing incidents. By current day, it is now estimated by a variety of studies that only around 6% of workplace accidents are caused by environmental factors, such as unsafe conditions, OSHA violations, dangerous equipment, etc., while the remaining 94% of accidents are caused by unsafe behaviours.

Even the most dedicated Safety Manager can’t be everywhere in the plant at once and even the best-trained employees become inept at recognizing their own unsafe habits over time. Teachable moments to help improve safety come and go. Without a program to observe and correct them, these habits will continue and lead to workplace injuries or worse. 

Behaviour-Based Safety Observation (BBSO) Programs empower your staff to elevate the safety of their peers by identifying at-risk behaviour and providing positive feedback. 

This, in turn, enables your leadership to coach and mentor effectively with the ultimate goal of building a safer work environment. 

When implemented correctly, BBSO programs can efficiently revitalise the safety culture in your facility and organisation. Peers will help peers work more safely, reducing missed work days due to injury, and having a positive impact on the productivity of your workforce. Your associates will feel more engaged having been empowered with the tools to make an impact through your new Behaviour Based Safety Observation program.

We wanted to learn more about how BBSO programs work and the benefits of digitization, so we chatted with Weever, a cloud-based workflow management software company who has successfully rolled out digital BBSO programs globally for organizations like Unilever, Monin, Bell, SportChek, Rise Baking, Basic American Foods, Husqvarna, and Hello Fresh. Here’s what they had to share. 

How do BBSO programs work?

As BBSO programs can vary as widely as the companies that implement them, there are structural similarities in all safety observation programs. Successful strategies will change from company to company – so be ready for some trial and error. That being said, all good BBSO programs include a method to capture observations, a process to evaluate submissions and create action plans, and a means to review program results and KPIs.

1. Capture Observations 

Safety Managers provide training around what to observe, how to capture data and how to properly conduct a safety observation. Observers should inform the observed staff members that they are being watched. 

Some organisations opt for a small amount of trained personnel, usually members of a safety committee to perform safety observations. Many choose a more open peer-to-peer evaluation approach where all staff are required to conduct safety observations. In the latter case, staff are usually mandated to submit at least 1 safety observation per month. 

Organisations that adopt a peer-to-peer strategy reap the additional reward of the observer thinking about safety best practices while executing an observation, instead of only being observed and receiving feedback.

The goal of any Behaviour-Based Safety Observation program is to give your associates strategies and insights that help them work more safely over time. Expecting instant results can set your new program up for failure.  People generally learn by doing, and the frameworks they’ve developed for decision-making have been built up over years. Encourage small incremental wins that will amount to significant safety improvements over the long term! 

Behaviour-Based Safety Observations are best executed when these conditions are satisfied:

  • Ask first: Remember to ask if it’s ok to observe before beginning. This is helpful to ensure they don’t feel like they’re being “ratted out” for being unsafe. The program is about growth, not getting people in trouble. 
  • Observational Credibility: Observers are credible and experienced with the task being observed.
  • Partner-Up: Partner multiple observers together to get the most insight – two (or more) heads are better than one! 
  • Positive Coaching: Give coaching in a positive and constructive manner and highlight both positive and at-risk behaviours.
  • Collaborate and encourage discussion: Consider asking the observee what they thought was safe and at-risk during the BBSO session. 
  • Summarise: To help the observee internalise the information, consider asking them to summarise the observation.

What to Capture?

The practice requires staff to observe other workers and provide a report on the general safety of their work including, but not limited to:

  • Body Position: Are they pivoting or twisting? Is there a risk of falling? How is their posture?
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): Are they wearing the appropriate protective equipment for the job?
  • Tools & Equipment: Were the tools appropriate for the job? Are they in good condition? Were they used appropriately?
  • Work Environment: Was the area clear of hazards?
  • Procedures: Were required procedures followed as outlined by your documentation
2. Evaluate Submissions and Create Action Plans

When observations are submitted, Supervisors review them and create action plans. 

Any behaviours that present an immediate danger to the life and health of the worker, or to the environment, must be stopped immediately and a discussion between the observer and the worker regarding the matter should take place. 

Upon submission, many observations will be simply closed because the observation was considered safe. Staff can opt to provide “kudos” to the observee, which can result in rewards should your organisation have a rewards system in place. Weever’s Rewards & Recognition enhancement automates reward points and prize redemption from a self-managed marketplace. 

At-risk behaviours can create a few different action plans:

  1. Review best practices with individuals – Plan a one-on-one follow-up with the observed person or party to review appropriate safety SOPs to avoid the situation occurring in the future. 
  2. Create Learning Content – If a situation continues to occur, Safety Managers will create a One Point Lesson or “Toolbox Talk” session where all staff will review the best practice and sign off that they understand. You can update Safety SOPs and add them to your Knowledge Centre and create quizzes for staff to complete. 
  3. Update Visual Controls – Add signs, indicators, and other visual cues to ensure commonly reported issues do not continue to occur. 
3. Track Results

Broadcast KPIs, such as near misses or incidents, to show the positive results that have been achieved. Insights can show opportunities for improvements and serve to motivate continued participation. Performance tracking can reveal meaningful trends that will help HSE planning. 

Weever automatically populates rich, insightful, and interactive dashboards that will allow you to see safety trends in real-time, or with a historical view. Automated reporting allows you to spend more time working with staff and creating real, meaningful change and less time battling spreadsheets. You can view a live BBSO reporting dashboard here:

What to consider when building your program

Before you begin rolling out your Behaviour-Based Safety Observation program, you should consider the following questions. Determining the answers to these questions will ensure a flawless rollout and save time and headaches down the road. 

  • Who will be responsible for making safety observations? All staff, or just supervisors and safety managers?
  • How frequently will your safety observers be expected to make observations? Weekly, monthly, quarterly?
  • How will you be recording these observations? Paper cards, or digitally via software on a mobile device, tablet or computer? 
  • Will you be gathering the observation data to analyse it for safety trends? Who will be responsible for collecting and analysing the data? 
  • How will you train your staff and what does the on-boarding process look like? 
  • How will you encourage and track participation? 

BBSO programs can be a challenge to launch if you don’t have the correct pieces lined up to make it happen. As challenging as they are to launch, maintaining momentum and keeping the program moving forward can be even harder. 

A digital implementation will reduce administration and make the data capture process more efficient and engaging for staff members, thus reducing barriers to success for all stakeholders. Weever’s Ultimate Guide to BBSO outlines these options in more detail and overviews real-life customer implementation stories.

The Benefits of Digitization 

Rolling out a new Behaviour-Based Safety Observation is a wise investment to help make the workplace safer. However, complex manual processes, data entry, messy paper forms, or complicated spreadsheets can all detract from your goal of making your employees safer, and doom your new BBSO program to failure. 

Fortunately, Industry 4.0 and digitization provide us with many new tools to help make the implementation and execution of BBSO much easier. Some of the benefits of digitization include:  

  1. Save time
  2. Ensure compliance
  3. Increased transparency 
  4. Less mistakes 
  5. Richer data
  6. Automated reporting

If you think Behaviour-Based Safety might be something you’d like to implement or at least learn more about, Download Weever’s Ultimate Guide (20-page PDF), where they lay out all of the information you need to understand BBSO programs, how to implement them, common pitfalls and even success stories from other EHS Managers.

Weever have helped organisations like Unilever, Monin and Mars Wrigley reduce incidents through a digitalized BBSO program and they can help you too. Go to to schedule a demo today. 

About Weever

Weever is a cloud-based workflow management software platform used by manufacturing, construction, and field-service organisations around the world to achieve operational excellence by enhancing real-time visibility, automating administrative “busy work”, and ensuring compliance at all levels. Headquartered in Hamilton, Canada, Weever enables digital transformation for some of the best organisations in the world including Unilever, Monin, Bell, SportChek, Rise Baking, Basic American Foods, Husqvarna, and Hello Fresh. 

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