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Using Behavior Change Approaches to Reduce 80% of Onsite Injuries

Using Behavior Change Approaches to Reduce 80% of Onsite Injuries

Managing safety on construction sites is an ongoing concern for all safety professionals and thousands of accidents occur each year. However, an estimated 80% of on-site injuries are preventable. Behavior Based Safety (BBS) is a process that helps management and employees improve employee safety by mitigating unsafe behaviors. BBS uses the power of consequences to maintain good behaviors that keep employees safe and eliminate bad behaviors that put employees in danger of injuring themselves and/or others.

BBS breaks down every situation into the ABCs: Activators, Behaviors and Consequences. Activators are the pretenses that trigger the action; behaviors are the way that the action is completed; and consequences are the result of this action. A very basic example is a laborer who needs to remove some material from an area of the site (activator), so he/she uses proper procedures and utilizes all safety equipment (behavior) and, afterwards, the task is completed quickly and safely with no injuries (consequence). While the expediency and lack of injuries are good for both the company and the employee(s), after many repetitions of the same task there can be apathy towards the task and an extinction of the good safety behaviors originally seen. An extinction of a behavior is what happens when there is no extrinsic reinforcement to motivate the individual, whether it is positive or negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement constitutes a reward of some kind to promote and reinforce the good behaviors shown, while negative reinforcement promotes avoidance of injury, discipline, etc. to solidify good behaviors. These reinforcements must be completed in a timely manner after the completion of the behavior, or they will have no leverage on increasing good behaviors. Punishment should be a last resort motivator as it is difficult to anticipate individuals’ reactions to punishment. Rewards or positive reinforcement should be used first and punishments should only be used if there is no success with other methods.

An important part of the foundation of BBS is that these motivators and attitudes toward safety must be applied across the board for your employees, including management personnel. With everyone under the same terms and expectations, laborers will not feel that BBS is a way for higher-ups to exert control and they will be more inclined to fully participate in the program.

BBS is most effective when adjusted over time to the employees in your company and the specifics of what you are trying to accomplish. For example, compliance with safety gear regulations is an important issue in construction sites, and it would not be feasible to reward everyone for wearing proper safety equipment every day. However, using negative reinforcement to promote compliance is much easier; show your employees the injuries they are avoiding by complying and there will be a greater adherence to the regulations. BBS is about adapting to the situations your employees face. Each employee will react differently to different types of motivation, and it is important for your team to identify the most efficient motivators for your workforce.


McSween, T., 2010. Value-Based Safety Process. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley-Interscience.

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