By Phil La Duke
No matter how sick you are of reading my tirades against Behavior-Based Safety I can safely assure you that I am far more sick of writing them. Yet here I am again hammering out another post on the virus that is BBS.
I know that many of the people who read these articles are purveyors of this nonsense and nothing I say will ever penetrate the bloated businesses made fat by spewing this swill to safety people who don’t know any better. Wait…that sounds patronizing and I don’t mean it to be. Typically, BBS is foisted on companies because either someone in the C-suite heard that BBS is the way to go (without having a whisper of an idea as to what BBS really is or isn’t) or a global conglomerate has dictated that thou shall have a BBS system in place or thou shall not get our business. In either case, both start with a decision that is wrong-headed and uninformed. So let me just answer some of the arguments put forth in the discussion threads relative to my anti-BBS posts.
BBS IS A TOOL
Yes, BBS is, in fact, a tool. I will grant you that, but so what? The question is not whether or not BBS is a tool but whether or not it is a) an effective tool and b) whether it’s the right tool for the job. A jackhammer is a tool, but that doesn’t make it right for driving screws to build a deck on your patio. BBS is too often seen as a ubiquitous tool that can be used in darn near any situation—the Swiss Army Knife of safety solutions. Yes, it is a tool; a tool that has been demonstrated to create friction among employees, a tool that encourages people to under-report injuries, and a tool that injured workers insulted and blamed. This, therefore, is a tool we can do without.
BBS MUST BE APPROPRIATELY APPLIED—THE EXAMPLES YOU GIVE ARE CLEARLY NOT CORRECTLY APPLIED BBS.
Texas City. The Deepwater Horizon. The Gulf of Mexico Spill. What do these all have in common? Large, mature, and sophisticated companies had BBS systems in place that not only failed but failed on an epic scale. I don’t believe for a second that these companies are to blame (at least not completely, or even primarily) to blame. They had invested significant time, energy, resources in a safety system that failed, and when it failed people died. Top executives had just left one of these sites after visiting it to commend it on its safety record. These weren’t stupid or incompetent people working for villainous corporations that were indifferent to human suffering, rather they were people who had been convinced, probably someone who was made rich selling this snake oil, that BBS was the single best way to keep people from getting injured, and they were wrong.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that It wasn’t the failure of BBS, rather it was the failure of the people and company to correctly and appropriately apply BBS at their sites. Should you entrust the lives and limbs of your workers to a system so fragile that a slight misapplication can cause a major breakdown and kill a dozen or so workers, cost the company tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, and forever stain the company’s reputation? BBS flies in the face of the Hierarchy of Controls and focuses on the lowest, least effective controls (administrative and PPE). This leads us to the next argument:
BBS WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE A COMPLETE SYSTEM, RATHER AN ELEMENT OF A LARGER MORE COMPLEX SAFETY SYSTEM.
Okay, there is a LOT wrong with this contention. First of all, some of the big purveyors of BBS systems charge upwards of a million dollars per site for a three-year engagement, others charge companies to certify their safety personnel in their methodology and then insist that only there training materials and posters be used by the customer, creating a parasitic relationship between vendor and customer. Still others take on only those projects of which their success is virtually guaranteed. So effectively if this argument is to be believed a company has to spend millions to get a half or one third, or LESS of a solution. If I shell out a million bucks I better get a complete system that not only lowers my operating risk but also helps me better manage my overall performance. This argument is like going to a restaurant and ordering a sandwich, being charged $30 and given two slices of bread. When you protest the waiter explains that the bread is only a small part of the sandwich and if you want cold cuts, condiments, or cheese you have to pay extra. Oh, and by the way, you have to pay that $30 every time you have lunch. Who in his or her right mind would buy that sandwich?
Beyond cost, no one who has ever thrown this argument at me has ever been able to answer my question, “okay, if it is only PART of the solution what is the rest?” apparently since they don’t sell it, it’s not their problem. I have a real issue with this since it seems to me to be a deliberate back door in the system designed solely for the purpose of blaming the customer for the failure of a portion of a solution that was sold as a complete solution.
YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND BBS
Maybe I don’t get it. I certainly don’t understand so many of the half-baked explanations given to me by the purveyors of bullshit. Maybe it’s because I am haunted by the image of the blood-splattered BBS signage where a worker was squashed like a grape between the sign and an out-of-process steel rail that crushed him to death where he stood. Was BBS the reason he was killed? Probably not, but it damned sure didn’t save his life either. If you look up BBS on Wikipedia (I admit not the best source for credible information) it reads like propaganda, not an encyclopedia article. It reads, (the typos are theirs not mine:
“Behavior-based safety (BBS) is the “application of science of behavior change to real world safety problems”. or “A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.” BBS “focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it, and then applies a research-supported intervention strategy to improve what people do”. At its very core BBS is based on a larger scientific field called organizational behavior management.
In a safety management system based upon the hierarchy of hazard control, BBS may be applied to internalise hazard avoidance strategies or administrative controls (including use of personal protective equipment), but should not be used in preference to the implementation of reasonably practicable safety measures further up the hierarchy.
To be successful a BBS program must include all employees, from the CEO to the front line workers including hourly, salary, union employees, contractors and sub-contractors. To achieve changes in behavior, a change in policy, procedures and/or systems most assuredly will also need some change. Those changes cannot be done without buy-in and support from all involved in making those decisions.
BBS is not based on assumptions, personal feeling, and/or common knowledge. To be successful, the BBS program used must be based on scientific knowledge.”
Let’s take this a chunk at a time:
“application of science of behavior change to real world safety problems”.or “A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.”
The first sentence is non-speak. How is BBS the application of THE science of behavior change to real-world safety problems? What is being applied? which behavioral science (psychology? sociology? anthropology? neurology?) is being applied? and the second sentence is equally ambiguous:
“A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.”
What form does this safety partnership take? How does it continually focus people’s attention and action on…daily safety behavior? What the hell is safety behavior? If you wrote a standard work instruction that was this ambiguous and someone died you would end up in prison making behavioral observations that can’t be unobserved or described except to a psychiatrist using dolls.
“In a safety management system based upon the hierarchy of hazard control, BBS may be applied to internalise (sic) hazard avoidance strategies or administrative controls (including use of personal protective equipment), but should not be used in preference to the implementation of reasonably practicable safety measures further up the hierarchy.”
So, in other words, don’t use it the way 90% of companies currently do.
“To be successful a BBS program must include all employees, from the CEO to the front line workers including hourly, salary, union employees, contractors and sub-contractors. To achieve changes in behavior, a change in policy, procedures and/or systems most assuredly will also need some change. Those changes cannot be done without buy-in and support from all involved in making those decisions.”
So to be successful, this system that is as delicate as Waterford crystal must have EVERY employee, contractor, and sub-contractor completely committed to it. If you buy this pile of crap may you should be committed.
“BBS is not based on assumptions, personal feeling, and/or common knowledge. To be successful, the BBS program used must be based on scientific knowledge.”
And yet behavioral observations are based almost exclusively on assumptions, personal feelings, and/or common knowledge (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean); these aren’t behavioral scientists making these observations. So to sum up, maybe I don’t get it, but then from the look of it neither do the proponents of BBS.
BBS CAN, OVER THE COURSE OF SEVERAL YEARS, TEACH WORKERS TO BE COMFORTABLE CONFRONTING THEIR PEERS ABOUT UNSAFE BEHAVIORS
Several years? You want me to spend SEVERAL YEARS and spend how much money and resources so one worker can say, “Hey Sam, that piece of equipment you’re working on is still energized! Shouldn’t you lock that out?” REALLY? If that is the best argument for BBS all I can say is that may be my best argument against it.
Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.
The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect less reprints and more new material).