Behavior Based Systems – Safety, Quality, and Environmental make them lean

Behavior-Based approaches have impacted the safety community for over many years. The BBS process has also been used to enhance our quality and environmental programs. While BBS is based on a few core principles, any consistent methodologies have been slow to evolve. Methodology providing results must eventually be enhanced or may become obsolete. Moreover, any process that isn’t efficient (i.e., Lean) in its search for increasing effectiveness will overburden those supporting it.

Lean does not mean less. Rather, it is a focus on value-add and the continued identification and removal of activities and efforts that add waste; or more simply put: greater value through less work. As the 90’s brought the popularity of Lean Methodologies and Lean Thinking, a natural evolution to BBS was not far behind.

Opportunities for Lean BBS:

  1. Integration – One of the most effective ways to minimize resistance to change is to minimize the perception of it. What existing structure, process, team, or cultural capability would produce a shorter path to results and create the impression of evolution rather than revolution? Perhaps the 5S team becomes the 6S, or integrate your focus on quality to include safety with Behavior-Based Quality or Environmental & Safety? Both have proven successful in the right environment. What about an existing team or sub-team or committee?
  2. Training – Overtraining is a common problem when the focus is on implementing a methodology rather than recognizing rapid and sustainable results. Consider what information is needed at this time to accomplish results in the next 90 days? How can you build on that once success is recognized? Why teach a team how to analyze data and develop action plans until they have their own data?
  3. Steering Team Size – A team that can never all get together isn’t a team. A successful process needs a team representing the interests of the population to make the important decisions of improving process and safety. What that team looks like, how many are on it, and the makeup of levels involved is culturally specific and based largely on trust.
  4. Checklist size – Effective BBS processes determine the most important behaviors to focus on based on historical incidents and observed common-practice data. A focus on more than five or six items is not a focus. Moreover, centering attention on the wrong things is not very efficient. If your checklist isn’t focused, neither is your process. Further, the checklist needs to adapt to fit the needs of the process. A process should never revolve around a checklist or be dependent on others to print and modify it.
  5. Observation Strategies – Blanketing observations is a tactic to capture a sampling of all common practice. Too often this becomes the only observation plan. There are four other common observation methods: Aimed, Blitz, Seeing without Explaining to Every Person and Self. Depending on the data and value that needs to be derived from the process, the observation strategy should evolve to focus on new results. Is it aiming at the right thing, time of day, etc.? Is it blitzing where most needed based on identified influence? S.W.E.E.P. observations are often used to validate a high percent-safe finding, and self-observations are often used with logistically challenged workforces.
  6. Data Utilization and Feedback– Far too many processes do not analyze their data on a frequent enough basis to understand how to: prioritize action plans, address data quantity and quality, identify trends and influences on behaviors, and respond to these influences. Any mature process combined with a healthy safety management system can indicate where, when and why the next incident will occur with a high degree of accuracy, based on observed practices.
  7. Voice Of The Customer – When a process is launched, all who will be impacted should be briefed to begin to address the “What’s In It For Me” question. Realize, however, the question never goes away; the answer will change over time. This process must treat others like the customers they are. If process leaders are not communicating in a way that creates strong knowledge and value recognition (e.g., everyone can name the behaviors of focus and recent successes), the support will wane.
  8. Documented Roles, Responsibilities and Results – Change initiatives for decades have experienced the middle-management backlash, due to bottom-up and top-down approaches. BBS has been no different. We desperately need supervisors to support the process, yet most processes fail to explain and develop approaches to ensure this occurs. The roles, behaviorally-defined responsibilities and results expected need to be developed for all involved, from those observing to those supporting leading (e.g., integrate with leader standard work) and serving only in a customer capacity.



The goal of BBS is to improve safety and help those impacted by it to make safer decisions and address the factors that might influence risk-taking (e.g., perceptions, habits, obstacles and barriers). While there is certainly much more to the Lean BBS methodology, consider how you can use this Lean BBS thinking to eliminate unnecessary or non-value added steps and maintain a results orientation rather than a crank-the-process one.

Many times an effective BBS program can take a safety management system (OHSAS 18001 or ANSI Z10) to the next level and make your program much more proactive.  This is also a key component in developing the safety culture that most companies desire. Please contact us for help developing your BBS or certified safety management system.


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