Behavioral Safety In The Workplace

We all have learned behavioral health and safety habits like tooth brushing, putting your seat belt on as soon as you get in the car, or looking both ways before crossing a street. The reward for developing these behavioral habits over the years is your health and safety.

Today, somewhere between 80 to 90% of all work accidents are triggered by unsafe behaviors or human error. Risky behaviors at work increase the likelihood of injury, while safe behaviors promote injury prevention. So, implementing behavioral safety practices in the workplace can help prevent hazardous situations from occurring.

A recent study conducted by Cambridge University and published in the Journal of                Organizational Behavior Management as “Behavior-based Safety 2022: Today’s Evidence” found that having a limited number of dedicated observers is more effective than encouraging all employees to participate and that being observed once a month is more useful than more frequent observations.

Take safe driving behavior as an example. One can judge drivers based on how they adjust their vehicle speed and position relative to other drivers, how they maneuver safely if a hazardous situation develops, and how considerate they are while passing other vehicles or changing lanes. Similar to drivers that do not pay attention to road conditions or text while driving, employees can become distracted if they do not focus on their behavioral safety. Their actions could then result in accidents or near misses.

Behavior-Based Safety Programs

There are two categories of unsafe behavior: violations and errors. Violations are deliberate choices made by workers not to follow safety rules, due to carelessness or lack of consequences. Errors are unintentional errors (making mistakes without realizing it) and habitual errors (due to routine or a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality). Note that unintentional errors are not intentional errors made by employees which need to be dealt with by the human resources department.

A Behavior-Based Safety Program informs management and employees regarding general safety issues in the workplace through safety observations gathered from workers’ focus on their own and their colleagues’ daily safety behavior. Safety management personnel know that promoting safe behavior in the workplace is a key element in building and maintaining a positive safety culture within any organization.

Behavior-Based Safety Programs have four key elements:


Here the observer gathers information about workers’ behavioral habits, analyzes injury history, and identifies how the habits affect the work-related safety challenges for the tasks the workers are performing. The observer categorizes safe and unsafe behaviors in order to find all opportunities for safety improvement. Be aware of the observation bias (Hawthorne effect) where workers being observed change their behavior because they are aware of being watched – significantly impacting their safety behaviors.


A behavior-based safety checklist is a direct-observation tool used to recognize safe behavior and eliminate the root cause of unsafe acts. Checklists usually contain the following elements:

> Personal Protective Equipment – like head, eye, hearing, hand, respiratory and foot protection.

> Body Usage and Positioning – commonly including ergonomics and pinch point hazards

> Vehicle &Tools Selection and Inspection

> Travel Paths – which may include identifying the least potential incident incurring route of travel


Behavior-Based Safety Programs are actually continuous feedback loops where the   workers and observers require response from each other to improve overall safety. By  discussing how the employees can perform their jobs safer, the observers learn a little more about the tasks, while at the same time the workers become extra aware of their  behavior. Positive feedback is especially encouraged. Once problem areas are identified and agreed upon, it’s crucial to find solutions to reduce or eliminate the safety hazards. Keep in mind that every workplace is unique and that the solutions need to be specially designed for that workplace. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.


The goal of the Behavior-Based Safety Program is observing and correcting habits – focusing on preventing safety incidents, not just responding to them. For an average person, it takes a couple of months to break a bad behavioral habit or to form a new good one.

There are several approaches that have kindled urgent success in encouraging safe behaviors in the workplace – such as safety-oriented training, supportive peer guidance and surveillance, developing procedures that workers must follow, and rewarding safe behaviors.

Behavioral Safety Services from HETI

HETI can help clients implement Behavior-Based Safety Programs in the workplace by conducting on-site safety reviews, recording safe and unsafe behaviors, sharing the findings, and providing feedback. A well-implemented Behavior-Based Safety Program can significantly increase productivity levels within a company and raise the work environment morale – by reducing workdays lost due to workplace injuries, workers’ compensation payments, investigations, training of the replacement worker, and product/line damage.


Jim Spigener, Gennifer Lyon & Terry McSween (2022), Behavior-Based Safety 2022: Today’s Evidence, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 42:4, 336-359, DOI: 10.1080/01608061.2022.2048943