How to Properly Use Job Safety Observations


One of the most debated topics in the safety industry is the effectiveness of behavior based safety (BBS) programs. The idea behind BBS programs is to improve workplace safety by correcting employee behavior through job safety observations. However, many skeptics claim these safety observations only play the blame game and don’t actually improve employee behavior.

While there are many pros and cons of behavior based safety programs, often times these programs fail because of poor implementation. This article will provide guidance on how to properly use safety observations that result in improvement.

Observation, worker observing employee's behavior

What are Safety Observations?

Safety observations are counts of the number of safe and unsafe actions or conditions in a work area for a given time.

For example, say you’re observing employees working at heights. You notice three employees forgot to test-check their safety harnesses before engaging in work. This would count as three unsafe actions. Alternatively, if you notice an employee has kept the walking area clear of debris, this would count as a safe condition

Observations are often recorded by managers using checklists that have separate sections for each safety topic, such as different types of personal protective equipment. The goal is to identify what employees are doing correctly in addition to any risky behavior, and use that data to apply corrections and improve safety.

Commonly, this is the first pitfall of behavior based safety programs, as EHS managers tend to focus on the negative. In order to create a safe work environment, you need to praise and reinforce safe behaviors as well as correct unsafe ones. When you only look at what workers are doing wrong, this can create a dissatisfied attitude toward work. Such negative feelings have been found to increase the risk of workplace injuries.

How to Encourage Safety Observations at Work

Proper employee observations are the backbone of a successful BBS program. It is critical they are completed correctly and are a welcome part of the workplace.

You want to make sure your safety observations are done frequently. This will help employees accept them a regular occurrence as well as ensure you have enough data to make informed decisions.

Frequent observations are also a good way to communicate to employees they will not be punished for behaviors assessed to be high risk. While you want to eliminate these behaviors, punishing employees for their mistakes only encourages them to keep those behaviors hidden, rather than correct them.

Instead, you want to facilitate employee participation in reporting safety observations, both good and bad. Encouraging employee observations not only grows safety cultures in the workplace but also helps ensure the success of your BBS program.

Manager observing worker carrying boxes in a warehouse for employee observation program

However, the best way to encourage employees to report safety observations is to make it easy for them to do so. That’s why it’s recommended to invest in a behavior based safety software system to simply the safety observation process.

Software ensures safety reports are filled out consistently, and capturing the required data while minimizing room for user error. Software that comes with a mobile app will give employees the option to perform observations at work with their mobile devices. Such EHS mobile apps will be able to work offline, without an internet connection, in case employees are out in the field. More importantly, using software to complete an observation report will be quicker than pen and paper, meaning they will be less intrusive during the workday.

How to Make Effective Safety Observation Reports

While encouraging employees to conduct observations is a key factor to a successful behavior based safety program, it is not the only one.

Many behavior based safety programs fail due to difficulty analyzing the data collected. This can either be caused by insufficient behavior based safety reporting capabilities, or dirty data.

Dirty data arises when your observation reports are too complicated or unorganized. This is why effective safety observations are organized in a standard checklist format. The checklist ensures you’re recording consistently and focusing on identified topics. If you’re unsure where to start when creating a safety observation checklist, you can download our free template below:

The most effective safety observation reports count both conditions of the work place, as well as actions by employees. This is because reactions to safe/unsafe conditions in the workplace is an extension of employee behavior.

If an employee casually walks past a spilled liquid, that is unsafe behavior, as ignoring the spill could lead to an injury. Part of the goal of altering employee behavior is to create a culture of safety. A culture where employees don’t ignore unsafe conditions but instead report safety hazards when they are discovered.

As such you should keep count of how many safe and unsafe conditions your employees create or ignore. Keeping this count separate from safe/unsafe actions allows you to better drill down where behavior needs to be corrected and apply a more effective solution.

Safety professionals observing a worker, BBS, observation

Get the Most Out of Safety Observations

Keep in mind that even the most robust behavior based safety program is not a cure-all for health and safety. Many experts have noted that BBS is meant to be part of a larger safety system. Your BBS program will have the biggest impact when it is combined with employee training, near miss reporting, and other safety initiatives.

This is why you may also want to consider using safety management software when implementing a behavior based safety program. This would serve as a single, central location to hold all your safety data, from BBS observations to inspections and training. You'll be able to quickly analyze the findings of your safety observations, then jump to training records, and see where there is a disconnect between the two.

Behavior based safety observations are a great way to get employees more involved in safety. The more employees that are involved in safety, the less risk there is of something going wrong. However, you'll only earn this benefit from safety observations if they are done and analyzed correctly. So be sure to follow these tips to get the most out of your behavior based safety program.

Want to Know More?

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