Behavior-Based Safety Overview

What is BBSO, where did it come from and what are the benefits?

Andy Pritchard  |   August 8, 2022  |    5 min read

TABLE of contents

    Over 90% of workplace incidents are caused by unsafe behaviors, not conditions. As a result, reducing at-risk behaviors will have the greatest impact on incident frequency and severity.

    Behavior-Based Safety Observation (BBSO) programs are the most turnkey and effective way to build better safety practices. BBSO programs involve the observation and reporting of safe and at-risk behaviors, which provides opportunities to train and elevate safety awareness as well as insights into incident prevention.

    BBSO programs can have a massive impact on your organization’s culture. By fostering a more engaged safety-first culture, you will reduce incidents, missed workdays and worker’s compensation costs, while increasing productivity, product quality and the overall health and wellness of your workforce.

    BBSO programs are relatively easy to deploy and manage, but there are best practices and common pitfalls you should consider before implementing your own program.

    BBSO programs benefit greatly from digitization, which makes the observation process easier and more accessible, automates workflow and reporting, and empowers employee success at all levels.

    What is Behavior-Based Safety?

    Even the most dedicated Safety Manager can’t be everywhere in the plant at once. Over time, even the best-trained employees develop the inability to recognize their own unsafe habits. Teachable moments that help improve the safety of your site come and go, and without a program to observe and correct them, these habits can lead to workplace injuries or worse.

    A Behavior-Based Safety Observation (BBSO) program empowers your staff to elevate the safety of their peers by giving them the tools to identify at-risk behavior and provide positive feedback. This, in turn, enables your leadership to coach and mentor effectively with the ultimate goal of building a safer work environment.

    The methodology continues to gain popularity because it is simple to implement and delivers immediate and sustainable results.

    Behavior-Based Safety: A Brief History

    The almost century-long history of Behavior-based safety began with research conducted by Herbert William Heinrich in the early thirties. Mr.Heinrich worked for Traveler’s Insurance Company in the early thirties. He reported that roughly 90% of all accidents, injuries, and illnesses were the result of what he called “worker errors.”*

    Research continued through the 1970s when the term “Behavior-based safety” was coined by two safety professionals named Gene Earnest and Jim Palmer. They were employed by Proctor & Gamble and were working on a project to reduce injuries at their firm.

    Over 94% of accidents are caused by unsafe behaviors.

    It is now estimated that only 6% of workplace accidents are caused by environmental factors - unsafe conditions, OSHA violations, dangerous equipment, etc., while the remaining 94% of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior.



    BBSO Graph

    BBSO Benefits

    The practice of Behavior-Based Safety can have a massive positive impact on the health and safety of your site. They are relatively simple to implement, make safety more “top-of-mind” to staff and, ultimately, reduce incidents.

    The potential benefits of implementing BBSO in your facility are enormous. Building a ground-up safety culture will increase your staff engagement and participation while at the same time reducing missed days due to injury.

    Other benefits include improved product quality, increased health and wellness, and reduced worker’s compensation costs. This in turn will have a positive effect on employee morale and retention, while improving your plant's productivity and bottom line.


    Simple to Implement

    When compared to other more advanced HSE programs, BBSO programs can be relatively easy to set up and manage. The practice simply requires staff to make and report safety observations. Supervisors evaluate the reports to determine what safety practices need to be implemented.


    Fosters a Safety-First Culture

    An Industrial Safety & Hygiene News 2015 survey reported that over half (52%) of HSE managers said that safer employee behaviors was having a major impact on their operations, while 54% said in the same survey that increasing employee participation and engagement was a priority. A properly designed BBSO program should feel like a “grassroots” or “ground-up” movement, empowering and enabling your frontline staff to take ownership over the maintanence of a safe work environment. This, in turn, improves employee morale and reduces turnover by promoting a sense of team spirit and accountability.


    Incident Prevention

    The Center for Behavioral Safety released a case study** where they tracked missed workdays due to injury for 18 months prior to, and 18 months following, the implementation of a BBSO program. For a workforce of 450 employees, over two shifts, they found a staggering 86.3% reduction of missed days due to injury or illness, from an average of 10.9 days/month down to 1.5 days/month.

    ** Heinrich, H. W. (1931). Industrial accident prevention: a scientific approach. McGraw-Hill.

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    Your Ultimate Guide to Behavior-Based Safety Observations (BBSO)

    Your Ultimate Guide to Behavior-Based Safety Observations (BBSO)

    • BBSO Overview and Benefits
    • How BBSO programs work
    • Best Practices to get the most out of your program
    • Benefits of Digitization

    Learn about best practices and key pitfalls from our experience implementing programs for large and small organizations over the past 10 years.

    • BBSO Overview and Benefits
    • How BBSO programs work
    • Best Practices to get the most out of your program
    • Benefits of Digitization
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