Safety should be everyone’s concern. Construction sites are hazardous and transient, known to have the highest rates of accidents with approximately 80% of these accidents caused by unsafe behaviors. As superintendents, it’s important to ensure workers feel safe and valued when onsite, but also that they feel empowered to be accountable for their own safety. Behavior-Based Safety programs emphasize this mindset by normalizing safe behaviors instead of focusing on measuring the length of time without an injury. Although it may sound like superintendents can take a step back from safety, with behavior-based programs, everyone has an important role in emphasizing the importance of safety.
What is Behavior-Based Safety?
The Behavior-Based Safety approach is a program focused on mitigating accidents by changing workers’ mindsets, habits and behaviors on the worksite. Through repetition and positive reinforcement, it ingrains safe behaviors to ensure that safe practices are always top-of-mind. By shifting the culture on a worksite, workers become more aware of harmful activities and how those activities affect themselves and their co-workers. They are then empowered to make safe decisions.
Although BBS has proven to be an effective tool, it still is only a supplementary tool and should be used to enhance the effect of existing safety practices. To be successful, it must have the support of all employees, from the CEO to superintendents to front-line workers. By aligning everyone with clear goals and visions, this will help change the culture and empower everyone to put “safety first.” Superintendents cannot always monitor their team, nor are they expected to. A good BBS program should fill in that gap, ensuring that safe practices are always a priority.
Implementing a Behavior-Based Safety program
A key part of a Behavior-Based Safety program is transparency. Clear goals and expectations of how they will be achieved should be set from the start of a project. This is important for senior management and the front-line workers. For senior management, seeing actionable goals that align with company objectives will help them understand the value. It is essential for getting the program off the ground, as policies and procedures may require updating. As these safety policies primarily affect front-line employees, it is important to be aware of the issues they are facing. Involve them in conversations early on. Reiterate that they have the power to stop activities that make them uncomfortable.
It is also important to use up-to-date and historic audits and reports to see a holistic view of safety. When reviewing past accident and incident reports, determine the “root cause” of them—not just the immediate causes, but the motivations and consequences behind the actions. As the culture shifts to a “safety-first” approach, the previous unsafe motivations should also shift. Once the motivations are addressed, turn to the actions themselves. Ensure there are clear, concise definitions for the targeted behaviors so everyone understands the change.
For example, if an employee is struck by a work vehicle, determine the root cause of the incident, such as a distracted driver using a cellphone. Perhaps these behaviors were previously observed, but management did not correct them due to a completion target date. The action that should be addressed with BBS to prevent future injuries would be the use of cellphones on the worksite.
Considering common high-risk construction activities is a great place to start the focus of a BBS program. These include working at height, mobile equipment and driving, material handling, confined spaces, electrical hazards, hazardous chemicals and groundworks.
Once the BBS program has been implemented, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure safety is a top priority. Superintendents should have their “boots on the ground” to monitor the team and find positive and negative behaviors, as well as areas of improvement. Negative behaviors and areas of improvement should be documented and reviewed often. Ensure there are real measurements in place to track the program’s progress. While it is important to address and change potential hazards and behaviors, it is also important to draw attention to positive behaviors. Reinforce and use them as examples of the preferred worksite actions.
Changing workplace attitudes
Behavior-Based Safety works in two ways: it helps front-line workers understand how they are putting themselves at risk and it gives them support to act safely when risky behaviors appear more efficient or convenient. In order for them to feel supported, safety must come from the top. Superintendents help create this support system by emphasizing safety as a core value and acting as a model for safety on the worksite.
Superintendents influence behaviors, which impacts how safety is valued onsite. Workers must understand that safety is more than a goal or a training program: it is a core value that should be taken seriously during all aspects of a job. Reinforce safe behaviors by reviewing hazards and dangerous activities with your team, and work together to find safe solutions. Superintendents should be constantly engaging and assisting their team with safe worksite behaviors.
To ensure that positive actions are reflected by the team, superintendents should always put their safety and their team’s safety first. One way to empower the team is to be open to their concerns. This can be done through daily meetings that address tasks and their implications on safety. It can also be done through surveys, where workers are asked detailed questions about the working environment. Follow up with the concerns directly to ensure that changes are being made.
Management and organizational factors have a key influence on accidents, either directly or through their impact on behaviors. Although it takes time to achieve, with the support of strong safety leaders, the results can be observed immediately due to the nature of measurement involved. Without strong leadership, the BBS program will suffer and expected results may never happen. Employees at all levels of an organization should champion the BBS approach to improve the quality of worksites and the health and safety of employees. Behavior-Based Safety is about everyone’s behavior, not just those on the frontline.
Niall Harrington is the managing director of Linesight’s Project Safety Management team and is a Chartered Safety Practitioner with over 25 years of experience in design and construction safety management.