The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention (Part 1): From Behavior-Based to People-Based Safety: Both Behavior-Based and Person-Based Factors Must Be Addressed to Improve Workplace Safety over the Long-Term

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Behavior modification ... safety management ... attitude adjustment ... behavior-based safety ... culture change ... cognitive alignment ... person-based safety ... human engineering ... social influence. These are all terms used to address the human dynamics of injury prevention. Each can be linked to a set of principles, procedures or a consultant's service and each defines a particular approach to managing the human side of occupational safety.

Each of these terms, and most of the accompanying materials, are insufficient. They are either too narrow and restricting, or too broad and nondirective. Some focus entirely on behavior change, while others attempt to address vague and unobservable aspects of other people--such as attitudes and thoughts. Still others hope to directly target culture change.

All of these approaches are well-intentioned, and none are entirely wrong. The human dynamics of an organization include behaviors, attitudes, cognitions and the context (or culture) in which these aspects of people occur. However, some approaches are too equivocal or ambiguous to be practical, while others may be practical but are not sufficiently comprehensive.

The Solution is Not New More than a decade ago, I proposed the need to address both behavior-based and person-based factors to improve workplace safety over the long-term (1). This approach was termed "people-based safety," and entertained substituting empowerment, ownership and interpersonal trust for more traditional safety jargon such as top-down control, compliance and enforcement.

These new people-oriented concepts were accompanied by practical procedures. In fact, one consulting firm (Safety Performance Solutions) began implementing these procedures in 1995 under the popular label "behavior-based safety" (BBS). Systematic evaluations of these implementations have enabled successive refinements of procedures, as well as the discovery of guidelines for increasing the effectiveness and long-term impact of BBS interventions.

Today this approach is called People-Based Safety (PBS) (2). The table to the right lists specific differences between the BBS versus the PBS approach to occupational safety. Some of these distinctions will be explained here, others will be explained in the second and third parts of this series, along with research-based rationale.

It's important to realize that PBS builds on the positive aspects of BBS. More specifically, PBS strategically integrates the best of behavior-based and person-based psychology in order to enrich the culture in which people work, thereby improving job satisfaction, work quality and production, interpersonal relationships and occupational safety and health.

In this first of a three-part series of articles on the essential qualities and procedures of PBS, we will start with its seven underlying principles. The academic label for this approach to occupational safety is "humanistic behaviorism" (3).

Principle 1: Start with Observable Behavior

Like BBS, PBS focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it and then applies a research-supported intervention strategy to improve relevant behavior. The improvement of others results from "acting" people into thinking differently, rather than targeting internal awareness or attitudes so as to "think" people into acting differently.

However, unlike BBS, PBS considers that people can observe their own thoughts and attitudes. Thus, people can think themselves into safer actions. In other words, self-management requires self-talk or thinking as well as self-directed behavior (4).

Principle 2. Look for External and Internal Factors to Improve Behavior

We do what we do because of factors in both our external and internal worlds. While BBS deals with only external factors, PBS teaches people how to address their internal thoughts, perceptions and attitudes related to injury prevention. …