The Dangerous and Irresponsible Resurgence in the Popularity of BBS

shutterstock_659858677By Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

Unless this is the first thing of mine of which you’ve read, you know how I despise Behavior-Based Safety (BBS). It’s devotees are the simple and the greedy, repackaging a ludicrously stupid system year after year in hopes of continuing the swindle. Some may wonder why I am so adamantly against Behavior Based Systems and before I get into it YET again I will simply say this: getting safety right and implementing sound systems is the difference between life and death. Some of you may recall that I lost both grandfathers, a great uncle, my father, my brother-in-law, one of my brother’s best friends, a childhood acquaintance, and numerous coworkers and friends to either workplace accidents or industrial illnesses, so you will forgive me if my tone isn’t as warm as fuzzy as you might like.

So what’s wrong with BBS? A lot:

  1. It presupposes that all unsafe behavior is deliberate. Most of our behavior is not deliberate especially rote exercises (those tasks we have done hundreds of times). Tasks we have memorized become unconscious—we do them without thinking. 
  2. Many unsafe behaviors are taught and BBS does nothing to guard against a veteran employee passing along unsafe behaviors. I have first hand knowledge of how this can happen. When I worked the line EVERY new job I was taught had at least one task where the trainer told me “we’re SUPPOSED to do it this way but we actually do it THIS way.” Some of this was simple innovation, but even if it was it should have been added to the official Standard Procedures and it never was.
  3. It drives unsafe behavior underground
  4. It pits worker against worker
  5. It doesn’t allow or address behavioral drift
  6. It leads to blame and shame of the workers.
  7. It creates an incentive to hide injuries and under-report injuries.
  8. It flies in the face of Deming’s 14 points.

At this point, either some snake oil salesmen who has spent years making money off this excremental nonsense, or some earnestly ignorant who acts as if he walked out into the rain and discovered wet, will try to sway me that BBS isn’t flawed, I just haven’t seen it properly implemented.  I have used the analysis of fricasseed squirrel anus several times, I am going to use it again. If you offer me fricasseed squirrel anus,and after a quick nibble I say, “oh jeez this is awful”, I should be able to refuse to eat it again, and yet invariably someone will say, “oh, you have to try MY fricasseed squirrel anus,you’ll love it”.  How many times do I have to eat a squirrel’s ass before I can say definitively that I don’t like it? And it is similar to BBS. If the system is so routinely misused maybe—and I’m just spitballing here—there is a better way to reduce the risk of injury in the process.

So why, if this system is as dangerously flawed is there a resurgence in its popularity?

  1. We have been convincing Operations leadership that this is the only option for 40 years.
  2. Injuries are under-reported and therefore it makes the Safety Function look good.
  3. College professors who have never worked in industry continue to extoll the wonders of BBS.
  4. Snake-Oil salesmen make $100s of million selling it.
  5. It provides the illusion of doing something about unsafe working conditions without making any substantial investment in infrastructure.
  6. It’s easy to implement.
  7. It centers the conversation around the flaws of workers and their poor choices instead of examining WHY the workers made poor choices or put themselves in the line of fire.

You can make a lot of money selling this dreck, but continuing to sell BBS, push it, and extol its imaginary virtues makes you dangerous, and speaking for the dead and permanently disabled shame on you.

Last week there were three workplace shootings in 5 days. How long are you going to continue to throw your hands up and say, “what can I do?” My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. answers this question. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble 

I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence.  But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is peppered with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) You should buy it. Seriously I’m not telling you how to live your life but you should buy it. Okay I AM telling you how to live your life, just buy the damned book.

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and is ALSO available in the eBook format you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain-forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly.  All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine are gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes &

As always, Read. Learn. Live. Share. Inspire.