What Is Behavior Based Safety? Importance, Best Practices, and Tips

what is behavior based safety

What Is Behavior Based Safety?

Behavior-based safety (BBS) is a proactive approach to safety management that focuses on identifying and changing unsafe behaviors in the workplace. This method involves observing the actual behaviors of workers, analyzing these behaviors systematically, and then applying interventions aimed at modifying behaviors to promote safer practices.

This methodology is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis which is a scientific discipline that studies behavior change. This approach uses empirical data to understand the conditions under which behaviors occur and how they are maintained over time. In the context of workplace safety, this means identifying the environmental, organizational, and individual factors that influence safe and unsafe behaviors.

Behavior Based Safety vs. Traditional Safety

In the face of risks and hazards, traditional safety programs often focus on the environmental factors or external conditions that could lead to accidents. This approach is often reactive and includes strategies such as implementing safety regulations, conducting hazard assessments, and ensuring compliance with safety standards.

On the other hand, behavior based safety takes an unorthodox approach where preventive measures emphasize the human factor - specifically the actions or inactions of behaviors of individuals. It considers the psychological and behavioral aspects of safety and aims to engage employees to participate in safety practices.

High-Risk Behaviors in Industrial Facilities

Aside from the preventive safety measures in place, employee behavior influences the overall level of safety in a workplace. Particularly, high-risk behaviors of workers contribute to the possibility of accidents or worsen the severity of an incident. Unfortunately, this type of behavior often becomes normalized within workplace culture or occurs due to a lack of proper training and awareness. Some of the most common high-risk behaviors in industrial settings include:

  • Skipping Safety Protocols: Accidents often occur when employees skip necessary safety protocols to save time, such as ignoring lockout/tagout procedures, bypassing machine guards, or disregarding safety signs.
  • Improper Use of PPE: Employees sometimes fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly, like not wearing hard hats or using damaged equipment, significantly reducing protection and increasing risk.
  • Unsafe Handling of Materials: Common issues include improper lifting techniques, overloading equipment, and unsafe storage practices, leading to falls, spills, or structural failures.
  • Ignoring Machine Safety Procedures: Accidents can occur from operating machinery without proper training, overriding safety features, or using machines improperly.
  • Distraction and Lack of Focus: Workplace distractions, such as mobile phones or multitasking, decrease focus and increase the likelihood of accidents, especially when operating machinery.
  • Risk-Taking or Complacency: Both long-term complacency and new employees taking risks to impress can lead to disregard for strict safety protocols, causing safety breaches.
  • Communication Failures: Poor communication, including not reporting hazards, unclear marking of dangerous zones, or inadequate safety briefings during shift changes, contributes to unsafe behaviors.
  • Resistance to Change: Resistance to new safety procedures, often due to concerns about slowing workflow, can prevent the adoption of safer methods and technologies.


7 Principles of Behavior Based Safety

principles of behavior based safety

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) is founded on principles that emphasize the importance of human behavior in the workplace safety continuum. These principles are designed not only to guide the implementation of BBS programs but also to ensure they are effective and sustainable.

1. Focus on Observable Behavior

The first principle centers on concentrating efforts on behaviors that can be seen, measured, and changed. By focusing on observable behavior, safety managers can gather objective data that helps in identifying patterns and areas needing improvement. This principle avoids subjective judgments about intentions or attitudes, which are less tangible and more difficult to manage.

2. Identify Critical Behaviors

This involves pinpointing specific behaviors that significantly impact safety outcomes. These critical behaviors are typically those that can either prevent a serious incident or are likely to contribute to one if not managed properly. Identifying these behaviors helps in prioritizing safety efforts and resources where they can make the most difference.

3. Use Scientific Methods

BBS relies on scientific methods to study behaviors, including data collection and analysis techniques that provide empirical evidence about what works and what doesn’t in changing behavior. This scientific approach ensures that interventions are based on facts and not on assumptions or anecdotal evidence.

4. Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is about encouraging safe behaviors through rewards and recognition, rather than focusing solely on penalties for unsafe actions. This principle is based on the psychological concept that behaviors followed by positive outcomes are more likely to be repeated. Rewards can be as simple as verbal recognition, certificates, or tangible incentives.

5. Employee Involvement

For a BBS program to be successful, it must actively involve employees at all levels, from the frontline to management. This principle asserts that safety is everyone's responsibility and that solutions are most effective when they involve input from those who are most at risk. Employee involvement also helps in fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the safety program.

6. Management Commitment

Management commitment is crucial for the success of any safety initiative. This principle emphasizes that leaders must not only endorse BBS programs but actively participate in them. Their commitment should be visible and continuous, demonstrating to employees that safety is a core value within the organization.

7. Continuous Improvement

The final principle stresses the importance of never being complacent. Continuous improvement in a BBS program involves regular reviews and adjustments based on new data, changing conditions, and technological advancements. This adaptive approach ensures that the safety program remains effective over time and responds to new challenges as they arise.


Behavior Based Safety Program: Overview

A Behavior Based Safety Program integrates traditional safety practices with a focus on employee behavior change, aiming to create a comprehensive safety management system. By systematically observing, analyzing, and intervening in workplace behaviors, BBS safety programs seek to promote safer practices through engagement and education.

Understanding the theoretical foundations of behavioral based safety management is key to its successful implementation and effectiveness. With this in mind, here is a brief summary of three influential theories that support behavior based safety initiatives:


ABC Model

behavior based safety abc model

The Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Model is directly related to behavior analysis, which is central to BBS. This model posits that a behavior (B) is influenced by antecedents (A), or the conditions that exist before the behavior occurs, and the consequences (C), or what happens as a result of the behavior. In practice, this model helps identify what triggers unsafe behavior and what reinforces it. BBS uses this model to design interventions that change antecedents and consequences to encourage safe behavior. For example, providing the right tools (antecedent) and recognizing safe behavior (consequence) are strategies that can lead to improved safety outcomes.

Health Belief Model

The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a psychological model that explains and predicts health behaviors by focusing on the attitudes and beliefs of individuals. In the context of BBS, HBM can be used to understand why some workers engage in safe behaviors while others do not. The model suggests that a worker's readiness to act safely depends on their perception of the risk associated with unsafe behavior, the potential severity of an accident, the benefits of taking a preventive action, and the barriers to performing that action. Addressing these perceptions through training and communication can motivate safer behaviors.

Theory of Planned Behavior

The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) extends the understanding of individual actions beyond personal attitudes to include social pressures and perceived control over the behavior. According to TPB, behavior is driven not only by personal attitudes toward a behavior but also by subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. In safety contexts, this means that workers’ safety behaviors are influenced by their beliefs about how others view these behaviors and their confidence in their ability to perform them safely. BBS programs can leverage TPB by creating norms that value safety and by empowering workers with the skills and resources needed to act safely.

Micro vs Macro BBS Safety Approach

Behavior Based Safety (BBS) can be effectively implemented at different levels within an organization through micro and macro approaches. These approaches target different aspects of safety and are critical for creating a balanced and effective safety culture.

Micro BBS Safety Approach

This strategy concentrates on individual and small-group behaviors within specific workplace settings. It looks at the immediate, observable actions of employees and the direct influences on those actions. This involves direct observations with targeted interventions aimed at modifying or reinforcing behaviors. In addition, immediate feedback is provided to employees.

Pros Cons
  • Allows for detailed, individualized feedback and intervention.
  • Quick identification and correction of unsafe behaviors.
  • Enhances personal accountability and immediate reinforcement of safe practices.
  • May not address larger systemic issues that influence behavior.
  • Can be resource-intensive in terms of time and personnel.
  • Risk of observer bias affecting the neutrality of feedback.


Macro BBS Safety Approach

The macro approach addresses broader organizational safety culture and systemic issues that impact safety behaviors across the entire organization. This typically involves cultural assessments evaluating the overall safety culture of the organization, policy development designed to support safe behavior through structural and cultural changes, and strategic planning to set long-term safety goals.

Pros Cons
  • Addresses root causes of unsafe behaviors that are systemic and organizational.
  • Promotes a sustained change in safety culture.
  • Potentially impacts a larger number of employees and processes.
  • Addresses root causes of unsafe behaviors that are systemic and organizational.
  • Promotes a sustained change in safety culture.
  • Potentially impacts a larger number of employees and processes.


Key Components of a Behavior Based Safety Program

A comprehensive Behavior Based Safety program involves several critical components, each designed to support and enhance the safety culture within an organization. These components ensure that BBS programs are structured, effective, and sustainable.


The first key component of a behavior based safety program focuses on the goals it wants to achieve and accomplish. These goals help steer the safety initiatives and provide a benchmark against which to measure progress. To determine effective goals, they should have the following characteristics:

  • Specificity: Goals should be detailed enough to provide clear guidance on what exactly needs to be achieved. Furthermore, effective BBS goals should be behavior-focused, allowing for action-based solutions.
  • Measurability: Goals need to be quantifiable and data-driven. This allows for progress to be objectively assessed and ensure that goals are based on relevant and achievable workplace needs and conditions.
  • Achievability: Goals must be attainable with the resources available and flexible enough to adapt to changes in the workplace environment or in response to progress made or challenges encountered.
  • Relevance: Safety goals should align with broader organizational objectives and consider specific risks and safety challenges present in the workplace.
  • Time-bound: Assigning a clear timeline for achieving goals creates a sense of urgency and focus. This also allows for regular checkpoints designed to review progress, adjust strategies, and redefine timelines as necessary.


Checklists are essential tools in BBS programs, serving to standardize the observation and reporting processes. By standardizing observations, checklists help ensure that data on safety behaviors is consistent across different times and parts of an organization.

In addition, well-designed checklists help observers focus on key safety behaviors and conditions, ensuring that critical safety issues are regularly monitored and not overlooked. They can also serve as a communication tool, helping to clarify expectations around safety practices and behaviors within the workplace. Aside from that, checklists provide a structured way to collect data on how often specific safe and unsafe behaviors occur. This data is essential for identifying patterns, measuring progress toward safety goals, and informing further safety interventions.


Observations are central to behavior based safety. It serves as the preferred data collection method on employee behaviors and is essential to understanding current safety practices and for shaping interventions to improve workplace safety.

Primarily, observations provide a direct method for assessing how well employees adhere to safety protocols and perform their tasks. They focus on actual behaviors rather than perceptions or assumptions. By watching how tasks are performed, observers can identify risky behaviors that might not be evident through accident reports or audits alone. This is a proactive identification strategy that offers the opportunity to address potential issues before they occur.


By the latter stages of a behavior based safety program, feedback serves as the communication tool to reinforce good behavior and encourage workers to continue practicing safe actions. Essentially, effective feedback helps bridge the gap between observation and behavior change. The purpose of feedback in behavior based safety is three-fold:

  • Behavior Reinforcement: Positive feedback reinforces good behaviors, encouraging employees to continue practicing safe actions. It also serves to motivate others by setting examples of commendable practices.
  • Behavior Modification: Feedback on unsafe behaviors provides an opportunity for learning and correction, helping employees understand the potential risks of their actions and how they can improve.
  • Communication Channel: It opens a two-way communication channel between employees and management, fostering a collaborative approach to safety.

However, effective feedback in a behavior based safety should be timely, ideally delivered soon after a behavior is observed. This helps ensure that the feedback is received and clearly linked to specific actions. In addition, feedback should always be constructive, focusing on the behavior rather than the person, and should guide on how to improve rather than just highlighting what was wrong. Emphasizing and rewarding positive behaviors, rather than only correcting the negative ones, can significantly enhance a safety culture. Most importantly. Feedback should be regular and consistent in order to be integrated into daily routines and activities.


Behavioral Based Safety Procedure: Step-by-Step

Implementing a Behavior Based Safety (BBS) program involves a systematic approach to integrating behavioral safety into the existing safety management practices. Here’s a detailed guide on how to effectively establish and maintain a BBS program:

1. Planning and Assessment

Begin with a thorough assessment of the current safety culture and practices to identify areas that need improvement. Involve employees at all levels, from management to front-line workers, to gather input and build support for the BBS initiative and define the specific goals the behavior based safety program wants to achieve.

2. Training and Education

Create comprehensive training sessions that cover the principles of BBS, the importance of safety, and the specific behaviors that need to be addressed. In addition, ensure that everyone understands their role in the BBS program. This includes training observers on how to conduct observations effectively and non-punitively.

3. Implementation of Observations

Define the protocols for how observations will be conducted, ensuring consistency and objectivity in the process. Start the observation process, using the previously developed checklists to ensure all important behaviors are monitored.

4. Data Collection and Analysis

Gather and document the data from observations systematically. Analyze the observation data to identify trends, common unsafe behaviors, and areas where the organization is performing well.

5. Feedback and Communication

Give constructive feedback to employees as soon as possible after observations to reinforce good behaviors and address areas needing improvement. As much as possible, hold regular meetings to discuss findings, share successes, and plan further actions based on the data collected.

6. Intervention and Improvement

Based on the data analysis, develop targeted interventions to change unsafe behaviors or to further encourage safe practices. Apply the interventions, which could include changes to processes, additional training, or new safety protocols.

7. Evaluation and Refinement

Regularly assess the effectiveness of the BBS program and the impact of interventions on safety performance. Continuously refine and adjust the program based on feedback from employees, results from the interventions, and ongoing analysis of safety data.

8. Sustain and Enhance

Integrate the BBS practices into daily operations and corporate culture to ensure they become a regular part of the organization. Continue to seek ways to improve the BBS program, keeping it dynamic and responsive to new challenges or changes in the workplace.


Behavior Based Safety Training

Behavior Based Safety (BBS) effectively requires comprehensive training and careful implementation. This process ensures that all employees understand the principles of BBS, the specific behaviors that need to be addressed, and the overall goals of the program. It also sets the foundation for a sustainable safety culture that actively engages everyone in the organization.

Elements of BBS Safety Training

First and foremost, BBS Safety Training should encompass several key elements to ensure it is effective and inclusive:

  • Understanding BBS Principles: Training should start with a clear explanation of what BBS is, why it is important, and how it differs from traditional safety programs.
  • Role-Specific Training: Different roles within the organization may require tailored training to address specific safety behaviors and responsibilities.
  • Active Participation: Effective training should include interactive elements such as workshops, simulations, and role-playing exercises to help reinforce learning and engagement.
  • Continuous Learning: Safety training is not a one-time event. Refresher courses and ongoing training sessions help keep safety a priority and update employees on new techniques or changes in policies.

Behavioral Safety Assessment

Conducting behavioral safety assessments is critical to understanding the effectiveness of the BBS program. This process helps in gauging the success of the safety program and identifying areas for improvement:

The first step in behavior safety assessment involves regular safety audits, which are crucial for assessing adherence to safety practices and identifying any unsafe behaviors or conditions within the workplace. Alongside these audits, it is vital to gather feedback directly from employees, who can provide insights into their perceptions of safety and the effectiveness of current practices. Additionally, analyzing data collected from observations, audits, and feedback is essential for identifying trends, successes, and areas that require improvement. This comprehensive analysis allows for the refinement of the Behavior Based Safety (BBS) program, ensuring it meets the evolving needs of the organization effectively.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Behavior Based Safety

Behavior Based Safety (BBS) programs have been widely adopted across various industries due to their focus on changing employee behaviors to improve workplace safety. However, like any approach, BBS comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages that organizations need to consider. Some of the key advantages of behavior based safety programs are:

  • Reduces Accidents and Incidents: Directly targets and decreases unsafe behaviors, significantly reducing workplace accidents.
  • Strengthens Safety Culture: Cultivates a culture where safety is a shared responsibility and deeply integrated into everyday operations.
  • Employee Engagement and Empowerment: Involves and empowers employees in safety and risk management, enhancing their commitment to maintaining a safe workplace.
  • Real-Time Feedback and Improvement: Offers ongoing feedback to correct behaviors quickly, fostering an environment of continuous safety improvement.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Utilizes behavioral data to make informed decisions about safety interventions, optimizing safety strategies effectively.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Reduces both direct and indirect costs associated with workplace accidents, making BBS a financially beneficial strategy.
  • Enhances Regulatory Compliance: Helps organizations meet safety regulations more effectively, potentially reducing legal risks and penalties.

On the flipside, behavior based safety also comes with drawbacks and disadvantages. If not implemented with careful consideration, Behavior Based Safety (BBS) programs can inadvertently foster a blame culture, where employees feel monitored and penalized for their actions, leading to resistance and diminished effectiveness.

Implementing BBS successfully demands substantial resources, including time dedicated to training, conducting observations, and analyzing data, which may not be feasible for all organizations. Moreover, while the focus on individual behaviors is beneficial, it can sometimes overshadow systemic issues or environmental factors that also pose risks.

The sustainability of BBS programs can also present challenges, as maintaining momentum and effectiveness over time requires continued enthusiasm and consistent leadership support. Additionally, accurately measuring the direct impact of BBS on safety outcomes can be complex and may not always provide clear evidence of behavior change effectiveness.



What is an example of a behavioral hazard?

An example of a behavioral hazard is not using personal protective equipment (PPE) when required, such as skipping safety goggles in a lab environment where chemical splashes can occur.

Who is responsible for safety in behavioral safety?

Everyone in the organization is responsible for safety in a behavioral safety approach. This includes management setting the tone and providing resources, and employees actively participating in safe practices and observations.

How does behavior based safety help you and your employer?

Behavior-based safety helps by reducing workplace accidents and injuries, lowering costs related to incidents, and promoting a proactive safety culture. For employees, it increases safety awareness and personal responsibility, and for employers, it enhances overall safety compliance and operational efficiency.

What is the difference between behavior based safety and human performance?

Behavior-based safety focuses on changing unsafe behaviors through observations and feedback, primarily addressing actions that can lead to accidents. Human performance, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of factors affecting performance, including system design, human error, and organizational factors, looking at why these errors occur.

How do you measure behavioral safety?

Behavioral safety is measured by tracking specific behaviors related to safety, using tools like checklists and observation forms. Data collected from these tools are analyzed to identify trends, measure compliance with safe practices, and determine the effectiveness of safety interventions.


TRADESAFE is an established American-based and owned company trusted by thousands for industry safety supplies and equipment. We offer Lockout Tagout products, eye wash stations, workplace signs, and more; all precision-engineered to enhance and ensure workplace safety.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.