Book: Process Risk and Reliability Management

Ebook: Behavior-Based Safety


  Inherent Safety
  Occupational Safety
  Process Safety
Safety Moments

Standard Examples

Ebook: Behavior-Based Safety


Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) programs have been in use since at least the early 1970s (Daniels 2015). They have been successfully applied within the process industries — for example, in the Citgo refinery system (Medina 2009).


The meaning of the phrase 'Behavior-Based Safety' is not precisely defined and so means different things to different people. But there is probably general agreement that BBS is a process that helps employees identify and choose a safe behavior over an unsafe one. BBS aims to make permanent changes in the manner in which people work. It also encourages employees to work with their colleagues on improving their mutual understanding of effective and ineffective behaviors as they apply to safety.


The fundamental premise - and challenge - behind BBS is to make employees accountable for their actions. This is done through a bottom-up or employee-driven approach. But, and this is a huge but, management must show that they are totally committed to the program by identifying reasons why employees may act unsafely and then spending the time and money needed to make the overall system safer. Otherwise BBS will be seen simply as being a "blame the employee" program.


Much of the change is brought about by observing how people work and identifying at-risk behaviors, along with those actions that merit positive feedback. If an unsafe behavior is observed, a non-threatening discussion should follow. Problems are seen as opportunities to improve safety performance and to share concern, coach, and learn. The aim is to create a mind-set of "doing everything right."

Behavior-Based Safety is part of the bigger picture to do with a company's culture. It also has a strong overlap with other programs such as "Stop Work Authority". As such it has the following features: 

  1. It creates commitment and passion.

  2. It focuses on the human side of safety by involving all employees, contract workers and managers;

  3. It defines safe and unsafe behaviors;

  4. It then encourages safe behavior and discourages unsafe or destructive behaviors;

  5. It requires management to find out why incidents are occurring and then to spend the money to fix the problems before worrying about behavior.

The most important point in the above list is the final one: management commitment to finding out why incidents are occurring and then taking action to correct the situations before worrying about employee behavior.


Smith (Smith 2007) provides an example of how a company tried - unsuccessfully - to use a BBS program to correct a known safety problem because they did not identify the true cause of people being injured. She quotes Larry Hansen,

Hansen says he visited a facility that incurred repetitive losses from injuries employees suffered running up the lunchroom stairwell. Finally, an employee fell and broke his leg, at which point management adopted a BBS program, installing monitors in the hallway leading to the stairwell to remind employees to walk up the steps and to reiterate the company policy, which called for no running. Despite the focus on employee behavior, employees continued running up the stairs until a second major incident occurred, leaving an employee paralyzed. Finally, someone got smart and began to examine systemic causes for employee behavior that ran contrary to company policy and, even, common sense.

"They weren't asking the most basic question of employees: 'Why are you running up the stairs?' " says Hansen. “The answer was, 'There aren't enough chairs in the lunchroom.' " Employees knew, says Hansen, that if they were late entering the lunchroom, they had to stand to eat their lunches.


The BBS Process
   1. Set the Goals
   2. Create the BBS Team
   3. Target Behaviors
   4. Develop the Measurement System
   5. Identify and Correct the Hazards
   6. Communication and Feedback
   7. Conduct the Observations
      Observed Hazard Card
   8. Feedback
   9. Measure Progress / Improve
Timeout Policies
   Five by Five Policy
   Take Two Policy
   Speaking Out
Off-the-Job Safety

Other Materials

We provide a video to do with Behavior-Based Safety. For discussions and updates to do with behavior-based safety please visit our Plant Design and Operations blog.

Purchasing Information

This ebook comes as part of a package. It includes:

  • The video
  • The ebook
  • The storyboard to go with the video
  • The test

This package can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Ebook: Inherent Safety

Ian Sutton is a chemical engineer with over 40 years experience in the process industries. He has worked on the design and operation of offshore platforms, refineries, chemical plants, pipelines and minerals processing facilities.


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