For years, safety practice traditionally focused on the workplace environment in an effort to prevent personal injury. Formal and informal audits produced a long list of action items such as a hole in the floor, a damaged tool or poor lighting. Management would correct all of the noted items in a timely manner and feel good that they had fostered a safer workplace. While it is admirable that logistics companies are addressing identified hazards, those efforts may not go far enough.
Is the goal of “injury-free” too narrow? In today’s environment a company may brag about multiple years of injury-free performance, but what about other sources of risk? In my opinion, “harm-free” is a more effective measure of a company’s full safety performance. While prevention of personal injury remains a primary goal, it is important to include other sources of harm and risk. These sources include environmental harm, sustainability, cargo damage, equipment damage, facility damage, business interruption, vehicle accidents, negative media and the Lean wastes of time/money/energy. A logistics provider cannot rest on an injury-free record if they fail in any of these other categories.
Safety organizations such as the National Safety Council and the American Society of Safety Engineers advise that a majority of all reported incidents, rather than being attributable to physical workplace hazards, are caused by human behavior. So, have we been “spinning our wheels” all these years?
Cultural change in the workplace is required to affect human behavior. The answer may rest in a process called Behavior-based Safety. Behavior-based Safety (BBS) has existed in some form since the 1980’s but many companies may not have been ready for that type of cultural change. However, it may have a better chance of success in today’s workplace. BBS is a peer-to-peer observation process that pairs positive reinforcement with concern for risky behavior. It is an employee-driven process, not a top-down management initiative.
The first step is to identify the specific type of behavioral risk in your workplace. A manufacturing facility will have substantially different behavioral risks than a pallet-in, pallet-out warehouse. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Keeping in mind all of the risk sources mentioned earlier, conduct an analysis of all of the related incidents and near-misses that occurred in your facility in the last few years. Initially you will focus like a laser on the top three or four risky behaviors, rather than take the previous “shotgun” approach of identifying hundreds of potential issues. Once you have developed your focus list of risky behaviors, you’re ready for the next step.
Observers are selected from the hourly workforce and provided specialized training to identify risky behaviors that appear on the site-specific Pareto chart that analyzes root causes of past incidents. Training also includes how to speak with co-workers in a caring, non-confrontational manner. The foundational element of the BBS process is that it is anonymous and no corrective action may ever be associated with it. Observed employees must be able to be honest when asked why they are not taking a precaution in the workplace. Checklists focused on the top three or four risk behaviors only capture what is occurring, not who is exhibiting that behavior. When a worker is taking all precautions to avoid risk, the observer provides positive reinforcement. When a worker is taking a risk, the observer will ask why the worker is not taking the accepted precautions and record the response.
This anonymous data is aggregated, usually through software, and reviewed by a steering team, also consisting of line employees. The steering team will analyze the behavioral data and identify countermeasures to be implemented in the workplace. As each risky behavior is eradicated over time, the next focus item takes its place until all behavioral risks have been addressed.
Employee participation as observers or members of the steering team rotates over time to allow all workers to become engaged in the process. The result is a facility-wide mentoring pool. As new employees are hired, the mentoring pool can extend the lessons learned to the new associates.
The beauty of the BBS process as described is the simplicity of achieving cultural change. BBS is low cost and employee-driven, with few management time requirements. And it works!
Need help developing a BBS process at your workplace? There are companies that specialize in implementation of BBS processes. ProAct Safety (proactsafety.com) in The Woodlands, Texas, is an industry leader.
John Butler has more than 36 years of experience in the area of Occupational Safety and Health, including a Master’s Degree in the discipline from New York University. His efforts on behalf of workplace safety run the gamut from firefighting, light manufacturing, transportation, and air freight to warehousing and supply chain management. He has spent his formal safety career with Menlo Logistics and currently serves as the company’s Director of Safety.