In implementing behavior-based safety (BBS) processes with leading organizations around the world, we continually stress that one of the main benefits of BBS is improved organizational safety culture and communication throughout the organization. Improving safety communication through BBS fosters a more positive and healthy organizational safety culture and reduces the chances that employees will get hurt on the job.

With this in mind, we use a safety culture survey to assess employees' beliefs and attitudes regarding the safety culture. This measures management support for safety, peer support for safety, personal responsibility for safety, and overall safety management systems. An integral part of safety culture is the frequency and quality of safety communication. One of the communication issues we address on the survey involves employees' opinions about cautioning coworkers "when observing them perform at-risk behaviors." Three items on the survey address this particular issue:

  • Employees should caution coworkers when observing them perform at-risk behaviors.

  • I am willing to caution coworkers when observing them perform at-risk behaviors.

  • I do caution coworkers when observing them perform at-risk behaviors.

The first question assesses respondents' "values." The second question addresses employees' "intentions." The third question involves respondents' "behavior." From more than 70,000 surveys given over the last 10 years, approximately 90% of employees agree that you "should" give employees feedback when they are performing an at-risk behavior. Nearly 85% of respondents report that they are "willing" to give correcting feedback when a coworker is performing an at-risk behavior. Unfortunately, only about 60% of respondents say they actually "do" provide correcting feedback when a coworker is performing an at-risk behavior.

Clearly, there is a big difference between employees "values/intentions" and their actual "behavior" in terms of providing correcting feedback to others when they are performing at-risk behaviors. This is problematic when we consider that the vast majority of injuries are due, in part, to at-risk behaviors. It is alarming that people are reluctant to warn others when these at-risk behaviors are occurring.

During training classes we ask employees why there is such a gap between our values (i.e., you "should" caution others) and behaviors (i.e., you "do" caution others) regarding correcting feedback. Common responses include:

  • If I give somebody feedback about a safety issue, they're going to get angry. I don't want to cause problems or get yelled at.

  • It's not my job to give peers feedback. I'm not a supervisor.

  • I've never given peer feedback before.

  • I don't know enough about that job to give feedback.

  • I don't want to give feedback to someone who has more experience than I do.

  • I'm not sure I can give appropriate feedback.

  • If I give somebody safety feedback, I'll be accused of having a hidden agenda.

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