Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were the entire world looking at you, and act accordingly.

--Thomas Jefferson

The purpose of this paper is to help safety professionals, owners and construction company supervisors attain zero injuries on construction projects by providing a guideline for implementation of a behavioral safety process. The author's experiences overseeing project safety as Corporate Safety Director in a large industrial construction company are the basis of the information herein, in addition to the information sources in the bibliography.

Numerous studies have shown that 85 - 95% of all occupational injuries are caused by unsafe worker behavior; therefore it is critical that managers understand the importance of implementing a behavioral safety process on construction projects after other safety elements are established and OSHA requirements are fulfilled.

Behavioral safety is not just an observation system. There are many preliminary activities that must take place before construction workers will participate in such a system. Management must first demonstrate to workers that their welfare is paramount and that everything is being done to make their workplace safe.

Since the early 1990's, many large industrial firms have established a behavioral safety process that included a behavioral observation system. In the late 1990's, behavioral safety became a more widespread element of industrial safety processes, but rarely has it been attempted by construction companies, especially with the implementation of a behavioral observation system.

Not even in the latest Construction Industry Institute (CII) study to identify the nine industry best practices was behavioral safety identified as key to safety performance in construction. However, although behavioral safety was not specifically named, those best practices that contribute directly to behavioral modification are highlighted in bold type.

  1. Demonstrated management commitment

  2. Staffing for safety

  3. Planning: pre-project and pre-task

  4. Safety education: orientation and specialized training

  5. Worker involvement

  6. Evaluation and recognition/reward

  7. Subcontract management

  8. Accident/incident investigations

  9. Drug and alcohol testing

First, the Basics

In "The Psychology of Safety" a book written by Dr. Scott Geller in 1996, he defined Behavioral Safety as a continuous process where target behaviors are defined, observed and when needed, intervention is undertaken and subsequently tested. But on construction projects, behavioral safety takes on other, more basic meanings. For instance, before any manager implements Geller's version of a behavioral safety process, the quality of work life on the project must be assured and leadership training for each supervisor must be completed and supervisors who do not have eadership skills must be demoted or given additional training.

Dr. Geller advises that before a behavioral safety process is attempted that all other safety elements be completely functional. It must also be recognized that behavioral safety is just one element of a safety process.

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