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May 16, 2012

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SHE 12 – Behavioural safety: a valid approach to improvement or just a load of BS?

Behavioural safety came in for a bit of a bashing at Safety & Health Expo today, as even proponents of the approach agreed that it can go horribly wrong if not implemented properly.

Sitting on the panel in the Arco Academy at lunchtime were Unite the Union’s Bud Hudspith; Jim McKerron – HSEQ director of the utilities division at Enterprise; consultant and former director of health and environment at the GMB union, Nigel Bryson; and Dr Tim Marsh, acknowledged world authority on behavioural safety and regular contributor to SHP.

Nigel kicked the debate off by quoting a behavioural-safety expert, who claimed that 99 per cent of why most behavioural safety processes fail is because of lack of credibility and consequently asked: why would anyone want to join a process that has a 1 per cent chance of success?

Describing himself as “the voice of sweet reason” Bud Hudspith described Unite’s current campaign ‘Beware behavioural safety’, which has developed with the Union of Steelmakers in the US. Said Bud: “The problem they have over there is some of the early schemes were clearly designed around union-busting activities, but that is not the case in the UK, to be fair.

“Common downsides here are where programmes have clearly been designed to shift the responsibility for safety from management on to the workforce. Basically, most behavioural safety programmes don’t work and are a waste of money. Instead of doing them, we want companies simply to identify hazards and deal with them. If they did that, then they wouldn’t have to worry about the psychology of the workforce!”

Jim McKerron, who has had significant success with the behavioural safety approach at Enterprise, said it should be about people, and particularly the leadership of the organisation, without whose buy-in there is no point in taking this approach.

Tim Marsh added that good behavioural safety should focus on the cause of unsafe behaviour, not the individual. He said: “Two things determine your accident rate: asking why things go wrong, and transformational leadership, which includes workforce involvement and leading by example. It’s all about working together to identify the cause and putting it right.”

Bud Hudspith, however, disagreed, saying behavioural safety is purely based on a myth. He explained: “Most advocates of the process say that between 80 and 100 per cent of all workplace accidents are caused by workers. But this comes from the work of Heinrich (of Triangle fame) in 1930s America! No one has ever been able to repeat that evidence since.

“Most safety professionals know that most accidents are down to a combination of factors coming together. Behavioural safety, however, says this is wrong – and that is why Unite’s campaign is telling people to ‘beware’.”

Nigel Bryson also flew the union flag, ascribing his success as a consultant to his continued use of methods he learnt during his time in the union movement. He said: “Unions focus on employee engagement and this ‘dinosaur’ method of getting the views of those who actually do the job actually works! All I have done is focus on worker involvement in workplace risk assessment, encourage joint working, and get the communication right.”

Tim Marsh agreed but said he would add on top of that “‘just culture’ analysis, nudge theory, ABC analysis, and coaching”. At this point, Jim McKinnon interjected saying introducing a ‘just culture’ system was “the worst thing I ever did – it made me really busy! It actually highlighted that despite the good record we had and the awards we had one, we still had a long way to go.”

The debate host, Heather Beech, of Barbour, then brought things to a close by summing up what had been discussed into three main points: there is a lot of confusion about what exactly behavioural safety is; there is a need to be wary of some behavioural approaches and bear in mind that they are just one tool in the practitioner’s armoury; and it’s ultimately about winning hearts and minds – both of the workforce and the organisation’s leadership.


At the Safety & Health Expo on 16 May, Tim Marsh, a panellist in a discussion on behavioural safety held as part of the event, made some inappropriate comments about Dominic Cooper. Tim accepts these were wrong. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for inadvertently posting the comments in the video of the debate on our website.


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Operated as it is meant to be, as a ADDTIONAL tool, incorporate the things Jim , Nigel & Tim advocate in the article – & BBS’s really do work!
In my experience, the main reason that BBS fail is often down to middle management & supervision ‘humming along with the tune, but not actually singing the words’!

Add in lack of understanding & drive from senior management & there you have it. They, not the people at the sharp-end are responsible for destroying good cultures! Pt 2 to follow


There are many ways to achieve a goal, and busineses need to adopt a process that works for them. As has been stated aleady BBS has a very powerfull impact in the workplace if; 1. It has the support from everyone involved. 2. Someone has the time to review the data, feedback to the observers and action concerns and issues raised. We have been successfully running a BBS scheme within our Global Tech Service Community. It has taken a lot of hard work to engage the workforce but with hard work


Safe behaviour is the end result of everything a safety officer/manager does.

Calling a process a ‘safety behaviour approach’ is a nonsense. No process is going to fit the idiosyncratic psychology of every employee, and it’s not reasonable to assume it can.

Safe behaviour results from a well informed workforce who understand the risks and why the controls are in place; who have been properly consulted and involved in the development of those controls.

It’s not expensive. Trust is free.


Behavioural safety has a place in the grand scheme of things, but focusing too much on individual actions and errors will result in missing the big picture in my opinion. I prefer to adopt the philosophy of the duty holder identifying and controlling the hazards they create. Once companies have achieved this they can then start to look at BS.

It is interesting to note that those advocating BS are ‘experts’ in the field, with of course a vested interest in promoting their own product!


This was an interesting debate.
Any behavioural change should be designed to motivate all staff into behaving more safely instinctively.Without lecturing staff on what they should and shouldn’t do.
The message must be delivered in a clear, understandable way. But it’s also essential participants enjoy the experience if they are to successfully take on board the good practices into their day-to-day activities.Management and staff showing and sharing commitment,enthusiasm and respect.


Very interesting views but not incompatible if the practitioner stands back a bit to take an overall view. However much ‘safety hardware’ is used to prevent accidents it has 2 failure modes that are not under the control of the installer. The wilful overiding of a control measure (shortcutting!) being one and failure to follow the ‘correct procedure’ the other. Changing this behaviour is needed – BUT a person can only change themselves not another, so management must change to effect any change


Behavioural safety definatley has a place in todays safety tool belt. But it all starts by getting the management team to lead by example and gain the trust of the workforce to show there is one rule for all when it comes to safety and if anything managers have a tougher time of things than emplyees.
I agree it must be correctly implemented but the biggest things is focus; it shouldn’t be seen as a fad that lasts a few months before fizzling out. It must become day job rather than an add on


Behavioural safety is easily implemented, either behave safely or bugger off.

Poor risk perception induces poor safety, just because you have done something without incident for years does not mean it is safe, you may have been fortunate, cemetaries are full of people who were less fortunate.

Change peoples risk perception and you change them forever.


When RG below says “Calling a process a ‘safety behaviour approach’ is a nonsense. No process is going to fit the idiosyncratic psychology of every employee, and it’s not reasonable to assume it can” he is wrong. The six behavioural traps apply to everybody and the same ways to overcome those trpas can apply to everyone. I know because I have proved it in practice for 16 years in over 40 organisations.


The short clip on the dvd shows again a union rant about behavioural safety revealling one truth – every accident (unless an act of God) is the result of an individual making a mistake. This truth does not negate another truth that management also contributes in some way to an accident. There are different apporaches to behavioural safety – to domatically say it doesn’t work shows ignorance and a lack of care for union members who will be hurt because they are not aware of the behavioural traps


Part 2.
Behavioural programmes cannot ever be implemented by a series of booring slide shows & DVD’s. Culture change is fundamental – it should be ‘how we run our business’ not something that ‘will impress our client’. I have just recently come back to a site where BBS is embraced. It is a pleasure to walk onto the site. pro-activity from the workforce and the management. If your BBS doesn’t work, then either you don’t believe in it or you aren’t doing it right – simples!


Part 2
With hard work and posotive feedback we are slowley seeing the safety culture change. Our staff are more aware of the risks in their working environments., but at the same time more comfortable that the comapny will support there decisions not to attend customer premises because they are deemed to unsafe to attend. In these instances we have approached these businesses and they have been posotive in creating a safer working environment. With a global workforce and enthusiasm BBS works