Pick up a risk management or safety publication these days, and you are certain to find an article or two claiming phenomenal results achieved through behavior safety programs. Companies reporting reductions in workers' compensation costs of 30% … 50% … even 70% are not uncommon. Even more remarkable is the fact that these claims are actually true; the results have been objectively measured and documented. And, these results have been achieved by companies in a wide range of industries and across geographical regions.

Unfortunately, not all companies are successful with their behavior safety programs. One major obstacle to the successful implementation of a behavior safety program can be the design of the workstations and workflow through your operations. Even the best behavior safety program will not be effective if your workplace is not designed to promote safe behaviors.

Figure 1. Poor workstation design causes the employee to use unsafe body mechanics (available in full paper).

For example, at one production facility employees reach across a table to pull trays of toolend caps out of a box and onto a conveyor (Figure 1). Back and shoulder strains occurred on this job, so the employees were trained to lift properly. It was assumed that the employees were lifting improperly - an unsafe behavior. This assumption was correct, but the behavior was caused by the workstation layout.

The back injuries persisted until a simple engineering change was made to adjust the position of the table and boxes (Figure 2). This design change enabled the employees to pull the trays of end caps from the boxes without reaching and bending, eliminating the "unsafe lifting behavior".

Figure 2. A minor change to the workstation improves the working postures (available in full paper).

Let's take a look at how ergonomic concepts can be applied to the design of your workplace to encourage safe behaviors, while improving productivity and quality.

Behavior Safety Basics

The main premise behind behavior-based safety programs is fairly straightforward. Thousands of unsafe behaviors occur in your workplace everyday. Most unsafe behaviors do not result in injuries, but they certainly increase the probability of injury. By identifying those behaviors that result in the most frequent or highest severity injuries, management can take steps to replace those unsafe behaviors with more appropriate behaviors.

Behavior safety provides a positive approach to loss prevention. Management clearly defines or "pinpoints" the safe behaviors they expect from the staff. All staff members are then trained on the safe behaviors, and a sampling of the staff is responsible for "catching" their peers doing something right - performing the safe behaviors. Positive reinforcement is the primary tool used to prompt staff members to repeat the safe behaviors. Employees are rewarded for working safely.

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