Beyond Observation and Feedback: Integrating Behavioral Safety Principles Into
Other Safety Management Systems1.
Sherry R. Perdue
A behavioral observation and feedback process is a very effective means of reducing injuries and incidents
in the workplace. By observing and providing feedback, peers encourage safe rather than at-risk work
practices of one another. In addition, the data collected provides a leading metric predictive of downstream
safety performance. However, a behavioral observation and feedback process is just one tool that utilizes
principles of psychology to encourage an improved safety culture. In fact, in absence of a positive (or
improving) safety culture, an observation and feedback process is likely to meet limited success.
Traditional safety management systems and activities (e.g., incident and near miss reporting, incident
investigations, safety meetings, safety committees, safety accountability processes, safety reward and
recognition programs) may undermine safety culture change efforts. Systems which are ineffective or
counterproductive should be carefully examined and modified.
This paper provides a review of a behavioral observation and feedback process and discusses the tool’s
broader purpose of influencing an organization’s safety culture. Next, the paper reviews some of the
principles from the field of psychology which underlie the observation process and illustrates, through case
study, how these principles should also influence the design of other safety management systems. Finally,
the paper will present a strategy for assessing and modifying traditional safety systems so that they support
an organization’s safety culture change efforts.
Behavioral Observation and Feedback Reviewed
A behavioral observation and feedback process is a tool designed to help encourage safe work practices and
discourage at-risk work practices. Using simple but effective observation techniques, employees
periodically observe each other. Following t