Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Energize Safety: Reinventing Behavior-Based Safety

There was a time when many viewed behavior-based safety (BBS) as the answer to workplace injuries and illnesses. Over time, however, it became clear that BBS is really is just another tool in the arsenal that EHS professionals can deploy to protect workers and improve operational performance. Many of its principles remain valid, but it’s time to rethink and reinvent them for today's workplace.

Just ask Terry Mathis, CEO, ProAct Safety Inc., The Woodlands, TX. Mathis will be a featured speaker at ASSE’s upcoming Energize Your Safety Management Program symposium. As many who have tried or considered BBS can attest, such initiatives can be resource-intensive and expensive. That's why, Mathis advises, EHS professionals should be asking themselves these questions: Which of these activities really add value? What’s enough? What’s too much?

According to Mathis, new alternatives have emerged that achieve many of the same results as older BBS models, but at a lower cost, while consuming fewer resources and achieving lasting changes more quickly. “The idea [of BBS] is very good. But which behaviors do you get workers to start or stop behaviors? How many can you do at a time? What’s the most effective and efficient way of making those changes in the workplace?” Mathis explains. “We’ve experimented with it over the years. There’s a traditional way of doing this, and there are a lot of new possibilities of how you can get the same thing done more effectively and more efficiently.”

This applies to those trying BBS for the first time as well as those who've had programs in place for 10 to 15 years, Mathis says. Reengineering and rethinking the old models leads to processes that aren’t “painstaking to get up and going if you’re starting from scratch” while it can help those with established programs determine "where do we go from here?" The ultimate outcome is to generate a new level of energy around occupational safety.

“A lot of the old processes made the mistake of saying, ‘This is the formula, this is the way to do it, so let’s just keep doing it that way,’” Mathis explains. The early gains many companies experience—for example, 40% reductions in key rates after the first year—motivate people to engage and support the process. However, as improvement rates taper off, people stop cheering and it starts to become routine and less meaningful. “It’s an activity without a result,” Mathis says. “People have forgotten that the whole goal of behavior-based safety processes is to prevent accidents. We have to come back and remind those teams from time to time that the goal of the process is not to crank the process. The goal is to get the process to produce results.”

Mathis points to the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and suggests its title carries a key message for safety and behavior-based safety in particular. “What got you those first gains isn’t going to get you those last few and get rid of those last few accidents. If you’re still using that same methodology, it’s time for a change. It’s time to ask, What’s the next level of behavior-based safety? How do you take it to that next level after these spectacular results?”

He will answer those questions and more at ASSE’s Energize symposium, slated to run Oct. 23-24 in Denver, CO. “If your organization is saying, ‘Look, we’re doing everything we know how to do and we still have this little, albeit much smaller than it used to be, problem,’ it’s time to look for new ideas, the leading edge, the next best thing, and I think that’s what this conference will be. The focus won’t be how to get from bad to good, but rather how to get from good to great. That fits a lot of companies today.”

ASSE's Energize symposium will be held Oct. 23-24 in Denver, CO. Click here to learn more.