I think we have all attended one or more safety conferences. In my case, the answer is lots more. Attending these events means investing one of my scarce resources, time. That leads to an inevitable question; what is the return on my investment? Well, warm weather in Palm Springs, California in January is not all that miserable of a place to go to seek out an investment payoff when it is 20° at my farm home in Illinois. The kickoff speaker, Chris, provided an immediate ROI when he explained his experiences with two types of BBS (Behavior Based Safety).
The first BBS approach is what seems to be the norm with all the usual suspects (BBS system providers). Here the focus is on individual, observable behaviors and the tactic is that of a safety cop. We look at an individual’s actions and provide feedback about what is wrong. The safety cop approach provides an immediate awareness spike. However, this often quickly degenerates into meaningless data as the potential offenders and fellow employees perform their paid observer role. They become bored with the latest, ineffective “flavor of the month” that is all about changing a safety culture one employee at a time by handing out tickets.
Chris’ explanation of the alternative BBS approach was that of improving the whole organization’s safety culture with a process that engages employees from all levels and across all functions. This far more effective concept and approach has been well proven over the years, beginning with the quality improvement initiatives of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The same approach was then modified slightly to improve customer service branches of organizations, and then to improve cost and productivity functions. And now a similar system is beginning to be used in “the last frontier," safety.
The focus of a six sigma error proofing initiative is not on one person. Rather, the approach concentrates on work groups and has the employees fix their own problems. In this way, the whole culture engages and improves their group performance. At the end of the conference, I went up and thanked Chris for clearly explaining the approaches and the differences between a one-at-a-time safety cop and a total organization’s effective engagement to relentlessly deliver a zero incident safety culture.