What is behavior-based safety?

Many employers believe that when they understand what safety looks like and the hazards their employees are exposed to, they can determine what unsafe behaviors could occur in the workplace.

Today, companies utilize behavior-based programs to identify human actions that could lead to serious accidents or even a fatality. These behavior – based programs help promote safety awareness within the organization without having to formally or daily train employees about safe work practices.

Behavior-based programs help organizations make safety an essential part of their work lives. The goal is that employees self-consciously make safety an essential component for the job, like breathing, without it we can’t survive.

However, companies may attempt to adapt behavior-based programs without fully understanding what it means and what is required. Many employers will adapt these programs with the mentality that it will help the company know who is performing at risky levels or could potential create a risk within the company.

Many refer to it as the “tattle tell program”, in which the company encourages employees to report unsafe behaviors with the sole purpose of preventing injuries and accidents. The reality could be different in some cases.

Safety leaders, supervisors, or managers who are not trained in behavior-based safety programs could push these programs to create internal harm to the organization, including:

  • Using the program to place blame on employees
  • Improper training
  • Using behavior-based safety as your whole focused safety program
  • Using the program to discipline employees (this is a very common mistake)
  • Not getting initial buy-in from employees
  • Not including all employees (management and hourly staff)

In 1931, Herbert William Heinrich published a book titled Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach. Henrich was an assistant superintendent of the Engineering and Inspection Division of Travelers Insurance Company when he published his book.

In this book, Heinrich theorized that for every major accident resulting in injury, there are 29 minor accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries. This became known as “Heinrich’s Law”. See below:

Heinrich’s Law

Heinrich’s Law

While there have been substantial changes over the years to behavior-based safety, the overwhelming data shows that when implemented correctly, behavior-based programs assist in the reduction of accidents and injuries. When implemented correctly, behavior-based safety should:

  • Identify (or target) behaviors that affect safety
  • Define these behaviors precisely enough to measure them reliably
  • Develop and implement mechanisms for measuring those behaviors in order to determine their current status and set reasonable goals
  • Provide employee feedback
  • Reinforce progress

In conclusion, behavior-based safety should be a tool used to develop a strong safety culture within the organization and should not be used as a tool to punish the worker.


Alan STC
Alan Hurtado| CHST, CIT
Client Partner