Employee involvement is fundamental to any Behavioral Safety process, as doing safety 'with' people is much more effective than doing safety 'at' people. Employee involvement does not always flourish in every Behavioral Safety process which certainly helps to explain why some fail.
Both OSHA and the British HSE recommend employee involvement in Health & Safety programs, but some Behavioral Safety processes are simply 'top-down' behavioral audits (e.g. Du Pont STOP), rather than processes that involve everyone. A Behavioral Safety process should be designed to deliver a 'safety partnership' between managers and employees whereby each has a part to play: This could involve both parties being members of a steering committee, developing and designing the process, conducting observations, providing feedback, completing corrective actions, championing the process, etc. The following discussions are specific to Behavioral Safety, but probably also have meaning to most other safety initiatives as well.
Lack of workforce buy-in. This normally comes about because the management team, without consultation, has purchased and imposed the system on the workforce. In too many instances, companies believe that bringing in a Behavioral Safety vendor to provide the management team with an overview briefing is enough to gain the required 'buy-in'. It is not. Although necessary at the initial stages to obtain managerial 'buy-in' it is not sufficient to obtain employee 'buy-in'. In my experience, the best way to get everyone's buy-in, is to conduct 30-45 minute briefings with the entire workforce (if possible). This should spell-out what is intended, what the process means to people on a day to day basis, and how they can become involved in designing, developing and executing the process. This offers the advantage of the workforce and line-management being able to ask searching questions and deciding whether or not it is something they wish to engage in. After all, it is a somewhat alien concept for your colleagues to watch you doing your job and providing feedback about your performance. Such briefings also mean that if the workforce agrees and 'buy-in' to the process, they will be much more committed to making it work. Such buy-in also means people's permission does not have to be sought every single time a colleague wishes to observe their safety behavior, as some advocate.
The behaviors on the checklists are not acceptable to the workforce, as they have not been consulted about them. Again a lack of consultation about the behaviors on the observation checklists with those who are to be observed is too common. Workforce consultation at each and every stage of the process is a 'golden rule'. The failure of many behavioral safety processes to exert a positive impact can be traced directly back to this lack of consultation as the behaviors are not targeting the small proprotion of behaviors triggering the lions share of incidents, and people simply 'pencil whip' or withdraw from observing.
Corrective actions raised by people are ignored: If people take the time and trouble to report issues requiring corrective actions and these are not attended to, people will withdraw from the entire Behavioral Safety process as it is not delivering its promise. One of the biggest debates about Behavioral Safety has been whether it is a process simply designed to 'blame the worker' for poor safety, while company's ignore unsafe conditions. Attending to corrective actions is not only related to reductions in incident rates (by about 22.5 percent) but it also nullifies peoples objections. In turn, the incident rates reduce more rapidly, which increases the Return on Investment of everyone's efforts.
Safety improvement target-setting meetings, or Kick-off meetings are not conducted properly. Common problems include
- insufficient preparation;
- sessions held in noisy locations;
- insufficient time set aside for people to express their views;
- it is held at an inconvenient time meaning that people are unable to attend;
- one or two vocal individuals hijack the sessions to air their grievances about what management has traditionally done or not done in relation to safety.
Many Case Studies demonstrating the positive effects of worker participation on safety performance can be found on the British Health & Safety Executive's website.