Why Regulations are Sometimes Not Enough

Proactive Safety: How to Reduce Workplace Injuries by 50%

Seventeen years of experience helping companies improve safety performance has taught me a few lessons.  All combine good behavioral science with practical real-world application.  Following these guidelines typically produces a 50% reduction in injuries within a year.

  1.  Recognize that safety improvement is a process that takes time. Businesses are complicated systems with unique cultures.  The shared values, beliefs, and perceptions of the workforce influence performance as much as the formal company rules, regulations and policies.  No long-term behavior change will occur without changes in these accepted practices. 
  2. Customize the process to fit YOUR needs by involving employees.  Employees know more than management about workplace hazards and at-risk behaviors. Allow them to demonstrate this expertise.  If you empower employees with key decisions about how your safety process will work, they will offer outstanding suggestions and help you identify potential barriers that need to be addressed.  As a result, they become more likely to buy-in and participate in their own safety and the safety of others. By building on a foundation of sound principles and customizing the use of those principles to fit your situation, safety processes can look very different except for one thing…they will produce a reduction in injuries.
  3. Focus on observable behaviors.  Traditional safety programs place too much emphasis on injury rate.  Injuries are the outcomes of behavior. Focusing on what employees are doing throughout the work day allows you to be proactive instead of reactive.  This will reduce injury rate.
  4. Use a simple measurement system to know how you’re doing.  When focusing on behavior, we recommend a Critical Behavior Checklist that allows employees to observe both safe and at-risk behaviors.  Please contact us for examples.
  5. Get behavior started with information, but keep it going with consequences. Behavior is motivated by its consequences.  Employees perform to get pleasant outcomes or to avoid unpleasant ones. So, although employees will work to avoid reprimands, behavior quickly reverts to the most comfortable form (often increasing risk) when authority is not around.  For example, when driving, we’ve all slowed down because of the presence of police officer only to speed back up once he is no longer visible in our review mirror!
  6. Provide frequent performance feedback.  Feedback is a consequence that motivates behavior change.  Corrective feedback reduces at-risk behavior and positive feedback sustains safe behavior.  Behavior observations combined with feedback produce immediate benefits.
  7. Focus on positive feedback for safe behavior.  Behavioral science has shown that we can create more enduring behavior change when we reinforce safe behavior.  Ignoring safe behavior as a condition of employment diminishes its value relative to the other behaviors that we do praise more regularly.  Culture change will only occur if we treat safe behavior with as much regard as we do other areas of performance such as productivity and quality.


In closing, as you start your journey of continuous safety improvement, you should consider involving an acknowledged expert to ensure your success.  The Center for Behavioral Safety specializes in customizing Behavior-Based Safety implementation plans that will fit YOUR facility’s needs.  For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Boyce directly at 775.232.3099, via e-mail at ted.boyce@cbsafety.com, or join his network at www.linkedin.com/in/cbsafety.

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