Behavioural safety
June 12, 2023

The ABCs of behavioral safety: The foundation of a safer workplace

The workplace today is about as safe as it was 15 years ago. That's according to the HSE.


Safety professionals create excellent processes and programmes to keep their colleagues safe. The whole organisation agrees they're excellent. They even agree to follow them. Once those same colleagues are out in the world, though, they revert to their bad habits. The answer then is that to make the workforce safer, you've got to change how the workforce behaves. This is what is meant by "behavioural safety".

A great place to begin introducing "behavioural safety" is with its ABCs. These stand for Antecedents, Behaviour, and Consequences.

A - Antecedents: 

These are things that happen before someone does something. It might be how a workplace is set up, the tools someone must use or a set of procedures. These are the foundations of behaviours and risks. The antecedents create the environment where risk can take place. By understanding the antecedents, we can address them and make the workplace safer.

B - Behavior: 

This is what people actually do at work. Each person does things slightly differently. That can be good or bad for safety. By learning how our teams act we can celebrate their good behaviours and work to change their dangerous habits.

C - Consequences:

These are what happens after someone does something. The feedback received for our behaviours. When we do something well, good things should happen. This might be praise or a reward. When we do something risky, it can lead to incidents. If nothing bad happens after a risky action, that is a reward. That encourages risky action.  The consequences of risky behaviour need to discourage that behaviour before something bad happens. These ABCs are principles that provide a framework. They help health and safety professionals think about what habits their organisation encourages. Changing the organisation to encourage better behaviour is a different matter.

Here are three ways to diagnose whether your organisation is encouraging behavioural safety.

1. Have we created a safe workplace? Do we have the right systems and processes in place? Is everyone trained on how to act safely?

2. How does our organisation behave? Does the workforce understand and follow health and safety rules already? Are the rules seen as unnecessary or getting in the way?

3. What is our current system of incentives? Is good work rewarded or are risks praised because they produce quicker results?

Answering these questions will begin to give you a sense of your organisation's habits. 

Is your workforce not behaving as it should? If so, it may be time to develop a behavioural safety agenda.

The ABCs of behavioral safety: The foundation of a safer workplace