For decades, the safety professional has led us to believe, through an abundance of consulting services, that the path to reducing injuries is obtaining a culture where people speak up when they notice others at risk. Many organizations have been sold that they need to have a behavior-based safety process. Safety leaders have thought that, if you have an employee-led team, you will get most of your employees involved in a couple observations of others a month with a checklist, and increase the volume of observations in your organization, that the level of risk decreases, and injuries will be reduced.
There is wisdom in the behavior-based safety process in that it does engage more employees, it does teach risk needs to be managed, and it does get managers excited when they see numbers go up (the number of observations each month). The problem is that, in focusing on the behavior safety process, much of the necessity to study and shift behavior across a broader system of behavior - focusing more on mindfulness and leadership – was lost. Sometimes, an over-focus in one area creates an unintentional under-focus across a broader system. And while companies worked hard at engaging employees and increasing the number of observations, in many cases they lost the connection to the purpose of the mechanics of the behavior-based safety process.
The overall objective of the behavior-based safety process had little to do with the mechanics of the process, the number of observations turned in. Rather, it was about the development of people. The purpose of behavior-based safety was to develop a culture where, much more frequently, employees would speak up and help a peer choose and act to be safer. Unfortunately, many organizations failed to change the real measure of success. They live with employees speaking up only 30–40% of the time. In other words, the desired culture of "actively caring" for one another was not fully achieved because the focus, over time, disconnected from the purpose (people-based), the entire focus became the process and the number of observations, instead of the real challenge of personal change.
Behavior and mindfulness remain primary concerns of safety, and all organizations that have safety as a value must continue to support and improve increasing employee engagement and ownership of managing risks. This will only be done by working on all three elements of the entire behavior safety system.