10th EWHN Conference for labour & occupational health and safety representatives and professionals
“Workers finding a voice in a new Europe"
Friday September 29th to Sunday October 1st 2006, 
Baltic Beach Hotel, Majori, Jurmula, 
Latvia

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KEY WORKSHOP B

Behaviour Based Safety – "Blame The Worker" Safety Programmes

What is a "blame the worker" safety programme? These are programmes that are implemented by management with the intention to decrease the numbers of reported injuries and to shift responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace from management onto workers. The theory behind these programmes is that almost all injuries are caused by workers’ unsafe actions. The programmes attempt to eliminate injuries by training workers to work safely.

B.F. Skinner pioneered the American-based system of what students often call "rat psychology". Like Pavlov before him with his dogs, Skinner conducted experiments which showed that behaviour could be modified by giving certain stimuli and either rewarding or punishing individuals. Skinner applied his results to the psychology of people.

Behaviour based safety programmes seek to do the same thing. Identifying unsafe behaviour and punishing those who whilst rewarding those who practice safe behaviours.

Is this model, however, rather simplistic? We know people aren’t rats so how does human society differ and make this idea of behaviour based safety programs more complex than it may seem at first glance? Worker Safety Behaviour – Wear Your PPE

So how do we train workers to be safe? They do not talk about "teaching", do they? They talk about "training".

Behavioural Safety (BBS) is about learning to live with the hazards instead of removing them. The theory is that 88%-96% of all injuries are caused by unsafe acts. It is about shifting blame and focus from the employer to the workers; about power and control. There is no room even for unions or collective thinking in BBS. Just individual blame. BBS is a long term strategy for union busting, and is more about power and control than improving the working environment.

Facilitator: Roy Erling Furre (N)

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Workshop report 

10th European Work Hazards Network Conference 2006

29th September – 1st October 2006; Baltic Beach Hotel, Jurmala, Latvia

Workshop B: Behaviour based safety,

BBS - Blame the Worker Safety Programs

Facilitated by Roy Erling Furre, Norway (Norwegian Union of Energy workers, SAFE)

This workshop had delegates from Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, UK, Scotland and Finland.

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What is a “blame the worker” safety program? These are programs that are implemented by management with the intent to decrease the number of reported injuries and shift responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace from management to workers. The theory behind these programs is that almost all injuries are caused by workers unsafe acts. The programs attempt to eliminate injuries by training workers to work safely.

The workshop went trough the material and the ideas behind Behaviour based safety. There was both smaller workgroups and plenum discussions around the BBS. The experiences were different from country to country.

Shortly explained the ideas behind BBS are from America.

B.F. Skinner pioneered the American-based system of what university students often call “rat psychology”. Like Pavlov before him with his dogs, Skinner conducted experiments with rats which showed that their behaviour could be modified by giving them certain stimuli and either rewarding them or punishing them. Skinner applied his laboratory results to the psychology of people.

Behaviour based safety programs seek to do the same thing. Identify unsafe behaviour and punish those who practice it and identify safe behaviour and reward those who practice it.

Is this model, however, rather simplistic? We know people aren’t rats so how does human society differ and make this idea of behaviour based safety programs more complex than it may seem at first glance?

Worker Safety Behaviour – Wear Your PPE

So how do we train workers to be safe? They do not talk about “teaching” do they? They talk about “training”. Remember Pavlov’s dogs?

BS Theory:–Workers are the problem, not the solution.–Change the worker, not the hazard. BBS is about learning to live with the hazards instead of removing them. The theory is that 88%-96% of all injuries are caused by unsafe acts.

BBS is not about safety. It is about shifting blame and focus from the employer to the workers. BBS is about power and control. There is no room for unions or collective thinking in BBS. Just individual blame. BBS is a long term strategy for union busting, and is more about power and control than improving the working environment.

All the delegates in the workshop got a CD with material about BBS. They should now be able to hold presentations themselves about behaviour-based safety.

Behaviour based safety- a swathe from America

By: Roy Erling Furre

This article was printed in Norway, January 2006.

Our Employers say that 96% of all incidents are due to behaviour and dangerous mistreatments. That is why they have introduced an American safety system called “ behaviour based safety”. This system is in conflict with the Norwegian work environment and the purpose of the Working Environment Act.

January 2006, researchers Helge Ryggvik, Preben Lindø and the undersigned Roy Erling Furre took a roundtrip in the USA to study experiences regarding behaviour- based safety. We visited United Steelworkers, USWA with more than 800 000 members. Their HES department has 16 employees who work fulltime with HES. A lot of this work is related to behaviour-based safety. The experiences from USWA have spread to other unions across the world. Why is it then that we shall import BBS and other “symbol safety” from the USA? The answer might be that the consultancy firms which sells these easy “quick fix” solutions uses psychologists who makes the message easier and sellable. They also use false data and statistics to give the impression that these systems work effectively. Something they do not.

What is the problem with behaviour based safety, BBS/ABS?

In addition to undermine the Norwegian three-part model (employee, employer, authorities), behaviour based safety will take the focus away from risk reducing actions. That leads to an increase of more serious and bigger accidents! That alone should be enough for us to toss this ideology on the dumpster once and for all.

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