Behavioral Based Safety

Behavioral Based Safety

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Behavioral Based Safety  was  the topic of a discussion from a group on LinkedIn lead to this blog.  Some words and phrases I had to google for an understanding in that discussion. I've been formally in the OH&S profession since 2011. I started my 30 plus years in construction as a mason’s helper and I have seen a lot of head shaking questionable things on construction sites. The first time I ever heard the phrase ‘Behavior Based Safety’ was up at the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Northern Alberta. The OH&S professional who talked about it was Dave Fennell, and what he said really made me think.    

Being more on site then in an office, when dealing with workers and trades we never say the word “Behavior”. What it really boils down to is “Choices”. A worker gets tasked to do a job on a site and right away he starts making choices about doing this specific job. Yes, most repititional work has a procedure for it and everybody knows the OH&S programs on sites have to be followed. However, workers are still getting hurt, and suffering fatalities. Day of Mourning in British Columbia had listed 153 deceased workers for 2017. How and Why?

Where does it come from 

A lot of it was from the choices workers make or being told to do the task in such a way that wasn’t safe. Their choice then was to follow the direction from their boss. On one particular site I noticed a worker right on the edge of a patio with no guardrails, squatting down and installing the waterproof material on the outer corner. He was 6 stories up and what he was tied off to was the plastic handle on the sliding glass door. 50 pounds of force would have snapped that handle right off. To make matters worse, the side of the building he was working on faced WorkSafe BCs offices.

I sure didn’t want to startle him for he might go off, so my choice was to walk up, grab the robe lifeline and pull his ass backwards. He looked at me like I was crazy. When the matter was finally dealt with I came up with the following conclusions. The worker only had a small task to do. In his mind it was a lot easier, and less time consuming to do it the way he was, rather then doing the task from a man-lift on the outside. It was also quicker then walking 6 flights of stars down and 6 more back up while carrying our doorway anchor device designed for just such situations in a mostly finished suit. He also didn’t want to appear stupid by asking for advice or help on such a small job. Pride, a seriously negative behavior for a young and new worker.

My Opinion

In my humble opinion, Behavioral Based Safety starts and ends with the workers. While working, choices and decision are made from the mindset of a worker based on knowledge, experience, emotions, attitude, and mindset at that particular time. I always tell workers to take 5 before a task and ask themselves “What could go wrong” in a lot of cases the answers they come up with (with my help) have a tendency to change their behaviors.  Upper management can formulate all the rules, regulations, and safety catch phrases, while owners and CEOs can instill a company’s core values ,  but its still the choices a worker makes which could lead to a negative result.


Behaviors are the result of choices being made because of the situation a worker is in. He could be under the gun for time, or they are not specifically trained for what they are doing. Choices being made due to the attitude from some of, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I know what I’m doing. I’m not going to get hurt”. For me since I’m on site I have to change that behavior. Corporate has nothing to do with it. Unless it’s equipment failure from an unforeseen issue, or an act of mother nature, I believe all the rest of worker injuries and fatalities that occur are caused by behaviors that lead to bad choices.   

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With several years in Construction, a vast amount in Masonry, when I turned 40 it was time for a change. Occupational Health and Safety was a calling I wish I discovered when I was younger. With over 30 years experience now in the trades, I have a knowledge base I wish to pass on.

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