MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about behavioral safety and the essential components of a behavioral safety system (Geller, 2001; Krause, 1997; McSween, 2003; Sulzer-Azaroff & Austin, 2000). While many different steps are discussed---and while many different terms have been used---authors in the field agree that behavioral safety consists of identifying behaviors which can lead to accidents and injuries; developing interventions to reduce the likelihood of these behaviors; conducting observations of work behavior; and providing feedback on safety performance (Komaki, Heinzmann & Lawson, 1980; Sulzer-Azaroff & Austin, 2000). Some systems even incorporate the use of reinforcement strategies to promote safe behavior (Austin, Kessler, Riccobono et al., 1996; Fox, Hopkins & Anger, 1987). Although a behavioral safety process encompasses many elements, conducting observations is a key component. Most times, there is no permanent product of safe or unsafe performance; this creates the need to directly observe worker behavior in order to record how safely a person (or group of people) is performing. In theory, these observations could be conducted by a consultant (or other third party), but they are typically conducted by employees and/or supervisors in the organization (McSween, 2003; Krause, 1997). One can cite many theoretical (as they are difficult to quantify reliably) benefits to having employees conduct safety observations (as opposed to a contractor hired solely for this purpose). These include increased employee participation; helping the process become part of the organization's culture; assisting with process maintenance; and generating additional discussion about safety in the workplace. In most cases, it is also more cost effective. Thanks to these benefits, many behavioral safety experts have concluded that using employee observers is the preferred method of data collection (McSween, 2003; Krause, 1997). An underlying premise of research endeavors is to help develop methods and applications of practice. Research should create usable, effective strategies that practitioners can apply to achieve change. While much of the behavioral safety research has been conducted using feedback and incentives to influence behavior change, little research has examined the effects of conducting observations as a subcomponent of the behavioral safety process (for one exception see Alvero & Austin, 2003, 2004). However, logic suggests that if workers are often the primary observers in behavioral safety processes, then it would be beneficial to know the effects of conducting observations within a behavioral safety system. Therefore, two primary purposes of this study were to:

  1. assess the effects of conducting safety observations on the safety performance of the observer in an applied setting; and

  2. evaluate the relationship between observation accuracy and observer behavior change.

The Study

A study conducted at a large hospital (323 licensed beds) sought to assess factors beyond the widely accepted theoretical benefits of having employees conduct observations. The research team wanted to examine whether safety performance improved as a result of having employees conducted them once a day alongside experimenters. The observations involved coworkers who did not conduct observations as part of the study. Participant observers also were trained on each dependent variable and observed each behavior alongside the experimental staff.

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