New research on behavioral safety

The New York Times (and other newspapers) reported on an article in the latest edition of the NSC Journal of Safety Research.  It is worth considering when the behavioural-based safety advocates come a-knocking.

According the media reports the article reports on “knowledge gaps” in research into behavioural safety.  It summarises the discipline, or alchemy depending on your experience with the advocates, very well.

“Behavioral safety” is becoming more popular as safety practitioners seek to better understand and develop strategies to prevent workplace injuries. Behavioral safety is the science of observing workers’ behaviors to determine where a different behavior or set of behaviors may have prevented or lessened the severity of injury. The study defines behavioral safety as an approach to improve safety performance through peer observations, goal setting, feedback, and celebrations or incentives for reaching safety goals.”

Thankfully it sensibly recommends that behavioural safety be applied as part of a broader safety management system.  In fact broader than many others suggest.  The study says that “psychological, social, engineering and organizational factors” should be considered and it acknowledges that how these factors affect behavioural safety is still poorly understood.  It suggests these areas for further research attention:

  • “Impact of behavioral safety interventions on rates of injury, illness and fatalities.
  • Appropriateness of the basic elements of behavioral safety across different industry sectors.
  • Relationship between behavioral safety and a greater safety culture.
  • Role of performance feedback in creating behavioral change.
  • Effectiveness of tangible and non tangible rewards on behavioral change.”

Some of these factors would best apply through research by the OHS regulators – a rare commodity – but they indicate some of the areas which OHS professionals should consider more carefully.

Clearly behavioural safety is still a developing area of study and application. It reinforces the position that behavioural safety is still not a panacea, regardless of the claims of spruikers.  Behavioural safety is one of the tools available to OHS professional and perhaps one that should not distract us from more effective and practical safety initiatives.

Kevin Jones

Categories health, OHS, psychiatric, research, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , , ,

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