Grain News

Behavior Based Safety in Agriculture

Date Posted: May 12, 2014

by Chris Goulart, RCI Safety

Behavior Based Safety is an approach to workplace safety that focuses on the actions of individuals and evaluates why they make the decisions they do when it comes to following prescribed safety practices.

Another common term for the principles applied in Behavior Based Safety (BBS) is Performance Management.

The fundamental principle of BBS is that employees engage in actions based on the outcomes they anticipate achieving.

For example, if an employee enters a grain bin while a sweep auger is running and does not fill out a confined space entry permit, but does so only for a second to knock some grain off the side of the bin, they anticipate doing so without getting hurt.

Further, when employees engage in actions like this over and over, they develop habits that may become difficult to change.

What occurs in the situation described above is all too common in the workplace in the Grain Industry.

Employees do not mean to take shortcuts that put themselves at risk; rather, they anticipate doing a job a bit more quickly or easily, and not getting hurt.

The more times this scenario is repeated, the more likely it becomes to occur again in the future.

This is an example of positive reinforcement (R+) for an unsafe act. We know that the best way to get a behavior or action to recur is by providing it with positive reinforcement.

In BBS, we work to change behavior through the use of reinforcement from feedback.

Whenever an employee is observed working unsafely, they must be coached on the expectations of performance.

However, when an employee is observed working safely, they must receive positive feedback.

Consider this example… An employee was observed by their supervisor working on some scaffolding outside a bin doing some welding.

The employee had taken the time to ensure that the hot-work permit was filled out, that all appropriate PPE was being worn, that the scaffolding had been inspected and documented, and that the fall-arrest and fall protection were both in place.

The supervisor noted that it had taken almost 45 minutes before the employee had even started welding.

The supervisor was under some pressure about hours and decided to ask they employee when he was going to leave for the day.

The supervisor shouted “He Joe, are you almost done? We need to get everyone clocked out as soon as possible.”

What kind of message does that send?

Does the employee feel like his efforts to work safely were supported?

Does he feel like the culture of the company is one where his well-being is a top consideration?

Or is the message all about money, the bottom line, and letting production trump safety?

Obviously, even though there was no discussion about safety one way or the other, the employee received obvious negative feedback about being safe.

If that organization were practicing BBS, the conversation would have likely been much different.

(Supervisor) “Hey Joe, I noticed you have your permit, you’re tied off, and you using all the PPE. Thanks for setting such a great example!”

The fundamental difference here is that the employee achieved something (acknowledgement from his boss about doing a good job) rather than instructions, coaching, or criticism.

This scenario may seem very simple, but in reality it is a major shift in safety management.

That is not to say that most supervisors do not give appreciative feedback. They often do, However, when a company undertakes BBS they actively look for opportunities to reinforce safe behaviors.

They also track the percentage of behaviors that are done safely versus those that are done unsafely.

This allows them not only to provide ample positive reinforcement for safe behaviors, but also to generate some excellent leading indicators (% Safe) that help them to evaluate the safety process.

BBS is founded in on principles derived from the scientific method.

It works to create a positive culture based on accomplishment and achievement rather than avoidance.

When employees can achieve safety rather than avoiding failure, it is apparent that their company is on the road to Safety Excellence.

If you are interested in learning more about Behavior Based Safety, plan on attending the RCI Safety 2-Day Behavior Based Safety Academy being held in Kansas City on June 17th and 18th.

For more information please visit or contact Chris Goulart at

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