The Values-Based Safety Process: Improving Your Safety Culture with a Behavior-Based Safety / Edition 2

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Behavior-Based Safety, based on the work of B.F. Skinner, includes identifying critical behaviors, observing actual behaviors and providing feedback that lead to changed and improve behavior. The Values-Based Safety Process: Improving Your Safety Culture with a Behavioral Approach, Second Edition provides a concise and practical guide for implementing a behavior-based safety system within any organization. 

Includes two new chapters on hot topics in behavioral safety, isolated workers, and the role of leadership in supporting behavorial safety.

  • Updated examples of the observation checklist.
  • New case studies covering large plants of 1,200 workers or more.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“...application of behavioral science to safety is stressed throughout the text....the overall value the book in promoting behavioral safety.” (Chemical Health & Safety, November/December 2003)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471220497
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 6/6/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

TERRY E. McSWEEN, PhD, is President and CEO of Quality Safety Edge, a company that specializes in the application of behavioral technology to create employee-driven safety and quality improvement efforts. He is also an active member in several business and professional organizations, including the Board of Trustees for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, the Association for Behavior Analysis, the American Society for Safety Engineers, and the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis.

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Read an Excerpt


Improving Your Safety Culture With Behavior-Based Safety
By Terry E. McSween

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-471-22049-3

Chapter One

Safety Basics

Improving safety is often difficult, partly because of past success. Most businesses and industries today have excellent safety records. Based on the year 2000 average of three lost-workday cases per 200,000 work-hours, the average employee in American industry can expect to experience one lost-workday injury in approximately 33 years of work. The problem with this high level of safety is the complacency that it often creates. Employees can shortcut a safety procedure, yet rarely get hurt. Behaviorally, therefore, many of them view the slight probability of suffering an injury as not significant enough to maintain 100 percent compliance with safety procedures. The reduced likelihood of an injury often simply does not offset the immediate comfort, convenience, or time saving associated with an unsafe shortcut. But the behavioral results are predictable for many companies. The overall frequency of unsafe acts remains too high and safety incidents that include serious injuries continue at a statistically predictable rate.

This chapter reviews what most organizations do in dealing with behavioral safety issues.


Most companies have embraced the following programs and initiatives to improve compliance with safety procedures:

Informal feedback on complying with safety procedures

Safety meetings and training

Safety awards

Safety audits

Written procedures

Special initiatives (posters, newsletters, off-the-job safety programs, etc.)

All these procedures are important to a successful safety process. Done properly, these elements contribute to good safety performance. But today, these elements define average safety efforts-they are what everyone does. If a company does them well, it will achieve an average level of safety for the industry. Although the rate of injuries will be affected by the consistency of these efforts, the result will basically be normal variation above and below the industry average: some years better than average, some years worse.

Consistent safety excellence requires far greater consistency in how safety is managed than most companies achieve through traditional methods. Research by Du Pont and others suggests that 80 to 90 percent of today's incidents are a result of unsafe acts rather than unsafe conditions. Thus, very few companies that focus on the latter achieve consistently high levels of compliance with their safety procedures.

New research confirms the effectiveness of a behavioral approach to safety that increases compliance and greatly reduces incidents. This book presents the kind of results that can be achieved through a behavioral safety approach, a summary of the key components of a behavioral safety process, and an overview of the procedures for implementing a behavioral approach within an organization's existing safety efforts.

In each of the cases described below, the companies had previously used the elements of traditional safety programs. In one example of improvement, on changing in 1980 to a behavioral approach, a major U.S. drilling company reduced its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable injury rate by 48 percent and moved from the industry average to being one of the industry's top five safety performers. This improvement was achieved through a management-driven behavioral approach even without the levels of employee involvement typical of current implementation efforts (Fig. 1.1).

In another case, on adopting a behavioral approach, a solids-handling chemical company with incident rates more or less typical of most such companies at the time went from three or four OSHA-recordable injuries per year to no recordable injuries over a period of more than 18 months (Fig. 1.2). This was a union plant and the hourly employees initiated the new approach, stating they were "tired of being beat up because of safety." They wanted to create a positive safety process that was employee driven.

Finally, a division of a large pipeline company achieved zero injuries for three years, a vast improvement over the prior six years (Fig. 1.3). This company initially planned to implement a self-observation process but during the planning found it could schedule employees in a way that allowed peer observations in the field. The latter proved to be highly effective.

The process that achieves these results is well documented by both experimental studies and direct experience. The key components are basic:

A behavioral observation and feedback process

Formal review of observation data

Improvement goals

Recognition for improvement and goal attainment

These elements appear so simple and common sense that many people underestimate the difficulty involved in creating a behavioral safety system. Managers, in particular, often fail to anticipate the difficulty in achieving the level of consistency and support required to make the approach successful. However, these elements combine to provide a proven process for systematically managing safety on the job in a way that minimizes the risk of error due to unsafe acts, ensures a high degree of procedural compliance, and maintains that level of performance consistently over extended periods.

Before examining the behavioral safety process in more detail, let us take a closer look at some of the key elements of current safety improvement efforts.


In colonial days, the Du Pont Company made black powder. The Du Pont family planned and built their factory into a hillside in a way that would direct the force of an explosion out over the Delaware River. This orientation protected the workers' homes and families in the village located behind the factory. The risks in this business meant that they had to think about safety all the time: Their lives depended on it.

Today, Du Pont continues to place a heavy emphasis on safety. The company continues to promote innovation in industrial safety. Over the years it has been among the first to champion the following, among other safety management practices:

Layered safety audits

Safety audits focused on behavioral instead of environmental factors

Specific feedback techniques during audits

These additional elements of Du Pont's approach to safety evolved from a formal study of all lost-workday cases that the company experienced over a 10-year period. The results of this study suggested that 96 percent of Du Pont's injuries resulted from unsafe acts rather than unsafe conditions (Fig. 1.4). Their study supported findings from 1929 that suggested 88 percent of all injuries were a result of unsafe actions by employees rather than unsafe conditions (Heinrich, 1959). Du Pont's data lend credibility to Heinrich's work, even though various authors later criticized his methodology.

Based on these results, Du Pont refined its approach to safety into its present Safety Training Observation Program (STOP). Du Pont promotes STOP extensively both within and outside the company. STOP involves a process of layered safety audits in which each layer of management conducts a regular safety audit, typically every week. A manager enters an area and finds its superintendent; then they conduct a safety audit of that area. On a different week, the superintendent chooses an area supervisor and they conduct a safety audit. Further, all management personnel conduct a formal audit each week in one of the work areas for which they are responsible while also conducting informal observations of both safety practices and safe work conditions at all times.

As they conduct the periodic audits, managers and supervisors complete STOP cards to document any unsafe acts they have observed, though not documenting the names of the observed employees. However, as soon as convenient, they approach an employee who performed an unsafe act and ask two questions. The first is a "What could happen?" question that prompts the employee to identify which of the observed actions created the risk of an incident. The second is a "How could [the employee] do the job safely?" question that prompts the employee to identify how to do just that.

Along with STOP, Du Pont strongly emphasizes the importance of safety in many other ways. The company has extensive safety training materials to support safety meetings and planning, such as Take Two, a safety program that encourages employees to take 2 minutes to consider the safety aspects of each job before beginning work. It tracks off-the-job injuries and conducts formal off-the-job safety programs and training. Also a formal procedure, any lost workday due to a safety incident prompts a site visit from an executive of the company who personally reviews the incident investigation and interviews all personnel involved in the incident. Informally, employees' safety records follow them throughout their Du Pont careers. These elements combine to create a "safety culture" that routinely results in the safety performance shown in Figure 1.5. Du Pont is usually number 1 in safety in the chemical industry, and historically it has frequently been twice as good as the next safest company.

Although Du Pont's safety record is very good, the average for the entire chemical industry is also very good. The industry average represented in Figure 1.5 means that a chemical plant employee has a very low probability of getting hurt. On the basis of chance, a chemical industry employee will suffer an injury incident on the average of once in every 30 years of work. By the same measure, a Du Pont employee will suffer an injury requiring medical treatment on the average of once in every 100 years.

These low probabilities of injury comprise part of what makes further safety improvements such a challenge. We will provide additional discussion of the behavioral impact of these probabilities later in the book.


Our studies replicate the Du Pont findings regarding the extent to which unsafe behavior contributes to injuries. Over the past 10 years, we have analyzed injuries at hundreds of organizations in developing checklists to help prevent injuries. Our findings suggest that in most organizations behavior contributes to between 86 and 96 percent of all injuries. Figure 1.6 presents data from one of these studies that replicate Du Pont's findings of behavior contributing to 96 percent of all injuries.

These data are not meant to suggest that employees are directly to blame for 96 percent of their injuries. From the perspective of behavioral psychology, all behavior is a function of the environment in which it occurs. Unsafe work behavior is accordingly the result of (1) the physical environment, (2) the social environment, and (3) workers' experience within these. The remainder of this book is dedicated to how to change the workplace environment in ways that increase safe behavior.

Several other lessons were also learned from these analyses. First, when we examined serious injuries and fatalities, we found them almost always in the category of "behavior and conditions." That is, serious injuries and fatalities most often result from a combination of unsafe behavior and unsafe conditions. Safety professionals often talk about a chain of events leading to an injury. Some of the links in the chain are behaviors, some are conditions, and we can often prevent injuries by breaking any of the links.

One story clearly exemplifies this combination of factors. A 40-year-old coker unit at a major refinery experienced a train derailment early in the day that resulted in a grate being removed from a walkway across railroad tracks, thereby exposing a pit about 5 feet deep. (Coker units are huge facilities from which finished coke is often unloaded directly into rail cars.) Workers immediately placed barricades on the walkway on each side of the railroad tracks. Some hours later, the coker unit had a pump failure that caused the area to be flooded with boiling hot water. When the shift changed later in the day, several of the incoming employees were not adequately briefed on the condition of the unit and did not learn about the derailment and the resulting pit now hidden by the still very hot water. Three of these employees began to walk through the area and came upon the barricades. Seeing the water, two of the three walked around the area. The other employee was wearing knee-high rubber boots. Assuming the barricades were intended simply to prevent employees from walking through the water, he walked around the barricade, stepped between the railroad tracks, and fell to his chest in boiling hot water. He was off the job for over 14 months as a result of his burns.

Clearly, a combination of factors contributed to this event, beginning with the unsafe conditions created by the train derailment and pump failure. A number of behaviors also contributed to it. The barricading was inadequate after the area flooded. The incoming employees were not adequately briefed about the condition of their unit. The employee who was injured walked around one of the barricades, and his co-workers allowed him to do so. In addition, management had cut an item from the capital budget the previous year for an upgrade that would have prevented the area from flooding. Instead of funding the upgrade, management had arranged a Band-Aid solution by building a platform that gave operators access to valves in the area when flooding occurred. Accordingly, one could wag a lot of fingers, but the point is that breaking any of the links in this chain of events could have prevented this very serious injury from occurring.


Du Pont's emphasis on unsafe acts recognizes the hierarchy commonly represented by the safety triangle in Figure 1.7. Geller (1988) refers to this as the reactive triangle. He suggests that approaches based on this model are typically reactive rather than preventive in that the focus is on decreasing unsafe acts. He maintains that a better preventive approach must focus on increasing and maintaining safe acts.

Additional support for Geller's logic comes from a study by Reber and Wallin (1984). Using an observational procedure in a heavy manufacturing environment, they reported a significant negative correlation between percentage of safe behaviors and both the rate of injuries and the rate of lost-time injuries. In other words, the results of their study showed that the lower the rate of safe behavior, the higher the rate of injuries. Their data suggest that increases in safe behavior should result in lower incident and injury rates. The empirical studies discussed in the sections that follow have confirmed the effectiveness of such a preventive approach.


Complacency refers to the loss of the fear of injury that typically motivates employees to work safely.


Excerpted from VALUE-BASED SAFETY PROCESS by Terry E. McSween Copyright © 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by E. Scott Geller.



Chapter 1. Safety Basics.

Chapter 2. The Vision.

Chapter 3. Value-Based Behavioral Safety Process.

Chapter 4. Behavioral Safety Process.

Chapter 5. Safety Assessment.

Chapter 6. Management Overview and Initial Workshops.

Chapter 7. Final Design.

Chapter 8. Step 1: Establishing Mission, Values, and Milestone Targets.

Chapter 9. Step 2: Creating the Safety Observation Process.

Chapter 10. Step 3: Designing Feedback and Involvement Procedures.

Chapter 11. Step 4: Developing Recognition and Celebration Plans.

Chapter 12. Step 5: Planning Training and Kickoff Meetings.

Chapter 13. Step 6: Conducting Management Review.

Chapter 14. Implementing Behavioral Safety Process.

Chapter 15. Maintaining the Behavioral Safety Process.

Chapter 16. Some Final Suggestions on Implementation.

Chapter 17. Special Topics: Safety Leadership.

Chapter 18. Special Topics: Serious-Incident Prevention.

Chapter 19. Special Topics: Self-Observation Process.

Chapter 20. Special Topics: The Steering Committee.

Chapter 21. Advanced Topics: Why It Works and Behavioral Basics.

Chapter 22. Advanced Topics: Improvement Projects.

Chapter 23. Other Support Programs.

Chapter 24. Long-Term Case Studies.

Chapter 25. Self-Observation Case Studies.

Chapter 26. Small-Company Case Studies.

Chapter 27. Observer Effect.

Chapter 28. Original Case Studies.

Appendix A. Sample Implementation Schedules.

Appendix B. Selected Consultants Experienced in Implementing Behavioral Safety Processes.

Appendix C. Unstructured Approach to Identifying and Defining Values.



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