News & Information Blog

Root Cause Analysis vs Behavior-Based Safety, Part II

By Susen Trail | 11/03/2019

In Part I we learned from an article by Lee Shelby called Saving Lives and Limbs through Safety Culture, that he was in the habit of not wearing the right gloves.  This most likely means his co-workers and possibly his Supervisor were aware of it.  This means his workplace had a weak safety culture.

We learned that Eric Giguere’s Supervisor habitually did not provide the engineering controls available to protect his employees.  In all probability, the owner of the small company was aware of this but provided no oversight to ensure their employee’s safety.  This means his workplace had an actively negative safety culture.

Both Mr. Giguere and Mr. Shelby are very clear in their descriptions of what led to their near-death experiences: their own actions.  In both of their accidents co-workers were aware of the unsafe condition.  In Mr. Giguere’s case it was only chance that there wasn’t another employee in the trench when it collapsed, or that there weren’t more of his co-workers in there during the cave in.

But these are overt causes, the visible, easiest answer causes of the accident...the employee did it.  These are the targets of Behavior Based Safety and why the results of safety programs focused on this tip of the iceberg often reach a sort of plateau of change.

At the same safety conference where I heard Mr. Giguere speak, I attended a seminar on Behavior Based Safety where the presenter described it as helping employees identify and choose a safe behavior.  They taught and coached their people to think ahead. 

They empowered and expected employees to learn and implement the tool of passive reinforcement with other employees.  Start with a compliment and then “May I ask you a question” which is basically, why are you doing your task in an unsafe manner, nicely.  Employees were given a goal, a certain number of observations they were expected to perform.   

This coincides with what Shelby says in his article “Safety must be celebrated within a work culture. Positive reinforcement keeps the culture motivated to continue its efforts. It’s essential to value and recognize a job well done. As employees feel cared about, the positive safety culture will flourish.”

The metrics of a workplace for Behavior Based Safety are:

  • Safety culture perception
  • Climate of commitment, caring, cooperation
  • Chemistry – passion, trust, focus, expectation, communication
  • Leadership and teamwork on the floor
  • Current safety efforts
  • Injury and illness data

Sound good?  What’s the problem?

Let me tell you a story.  Every year this family had a big celebration where they served a large pork roast.  Sally, now a teenager, was allowed to work in the kitchen preparing the feast for the first time.  Just before the roast was put in the oven, she saw her Grandma cut about 4” off the end of the roast and put it in a smaller pan.  When the meat was put on the platter the small piece was just set next to the larger piece.  No one could tell her why.

But the question piqued the interest of her aunt who looked into it.  It turned out that, when they first started gathering for this celebration, they didn’t have a big enough pan for the size roast they needed for all the members of the family.  So, they cut off about 4” off the end.  Even when they purchased a large enough pan they did not adjust to the new conditions.

Yes, employees are the ones that are hurt, and, in many cases, it is because they zigged when they should have zagged.  But they only know what they already know.

  1. You can tell employees to use part of their energy supervising each other’s behavior, such as, gently asking their neighbor why they aren’t wearing gloves to protect them from corrosive liquids.


  1. You can replace the corrosive liquid with a non-corrosive liquid.


  1. You could enclose the process so no employee can come into contact with the corrosive liquid.

Employees don’t know if Option 2 or 3 is possible and they do not have the power to make those changes.

Options 2 and 3 allow employees to focus on doing the job they were hired to do and still do it safely.  Option 1 divides their focus.  When implementing Behavior Based Safety it is important to use it as only one of the tools in your safety toolbox.

The presenter described how they connected Behavior Based Safety with Hazard Condition Reporting.  They recognized the importance of bridging the gap between the reporter and the actions taken based on the report.  They go back and tell the reporter the actions being taken as a result of his or her participation.  A process we have automated in Simple Safety Coach.

The presenter stated that keeping the reporter in the loop greatly improved their safety culture.  Their employees felt “They were concerned for me and got something done!”  Simple Safety Coach has gone one step further and incorporated a system of automatically awarded points for every employee action in the list in Part I.  The rewards points require no additional paperwork or effort on the part of the Safety Manager or HR.  The points allow both the employee and employer see a tangible positive result from participating in their safety culture in their day to day work.

So, we’ve talked about employees and we’ve talked about the Safety Manager’s responsibilities what about middle and upper management? 

Shelby said it best “There has to be a deep concern for the well-being of all employees from the top down. It’s everyone’s responsibility—from the CEO to the entry-level employee—to make safety a priority. It must be embedded in management systems and processes.”

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