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3 Reasons Behavior-Based Safety Programs Fail

By Adrian Bartha
Published: November 30, 2016 | Last updated: March 22, 2018 01:09:43
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Key Takeaways

While behavior-based safety programs can be difficult to implement and measure, a successful BBS program can ultimately improve worker safety.

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If there’s one trend that has safety professionals divided, it’s behavior-based safety. This controversial methodology is founded on the principle that workplace safety can be improved by understanding what motivates employees to make unsafe choices on the job.

While behavior-based safety programs can be difficult to implement and measure, a successful BBS program can ultimately improve worker safety. When a company has a system in place that can track and analyze the factors that influence risky decision making, this data can be leveraged to better educate employees on safety best practices, increase worker participation in safety programs, and build a culture that empowers employees to make safe decisions (see Essential Elements of Creating a Workplace Safety Culture for more).


In this article we’ll take a closer look at three common challenges safety executives face when implementing behavior-based safety programs and what can be done to overcome them.

1. You’re Playing the Blame Game

As a safety leader, you recognize that your ability to reduce the number of workplace incidents across your organization is directly tied to your company’s success. However, a pitfall that many management teams run into when implementing BBS programs is falling into the dangerous mindset that the majority of workplace incidents stem from risky employee behavior, rather than legitimate job hazards.

Bottom line: a BBS program can easily backfire if the safety onus is shifted entirely onto the employee. In reality, a successful safety culture requires participation across all levels of the organization, from management to front-line workers (for more on the importance of participation, see How Engaged Are Your Employees?) This means that rather than simply blaming and shaming employees for unsafe behavior, employers must do their part to minimize risk by educating employees about the potential hazards associated with their role, regularly conduct hazard assessments and ensure all field workers are correctly trained before sending them out on the job.

2. Your Employees Just Aren’t That Engaged

In a recent survey from EHS Daily Advisor, 91% of safety professionals said that the most important element of an effective workplace safety program is direct employee participation. With that stat in mind, it’s not surprising that behavior-based safety programs often fail due to a lack of worker participation.


As a safety manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that safety is top of mind for your workers out in the field and make sure they feel like valued contributors to your company’s safety culture. Empowering your workers to become engaged safety advocates starts with facilitating open, two-way communication between onsite employees and your management team. When safety issues do arise in the field, workers must be able to easily identify and communicate them to leadership so they can be resolved quickly together.

3. You’ve Built a Punishment-Focused Safety Culture

Lastly, another critical reason why BBS programs fail is because safety managers often rely on heavy-handed punishment to shape employee behavior rather than use positive reinforcement (find out whether punishment by withholding Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture). The unfortunate irony of punishment-first approaches to safety is that if employees are fearful of being reprimanded or terminated for pointing out unsafe aspects of a job site, they are less likely to report hazards which ultimately increases the frequency of workplace incidents. Instead of punishing employees for bad behavior, management should introduce a corrective action process in which safe behavior is rewarded. By implementing a behavior-based safety program that’s built on a celebratory safety culture, your company’s management team can expect a workplace environment where risky behavior is decreased, job hazards are minimized and incidents are reduced.

Next Steps

To learn more about how you can build and implement a successful behavior-based safety program across your organization, check out this white paper: A Safety Professional’s Guide to Behavior-Based Safety.


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Written by Adrian Bartha | Chief Executive Officer

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Adrian Bartha is the CEO of eCompliance, which he joined in 2012 after experiencing first-hand how a workplace incident affected a power and utilities company which he led as a member of the Board of Directors. Previously, Adrian was an investment professional for a $5 billion dollar private equity firm investing in energy, construction, and transportation infrastructure companies across North America. When Adrian is out of the office, he can be found riding his futuristic motorcycle and wearing his RoboCop helmet.
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