Behavioural Based Safety - A Delegates Perspective

The MUA has developed an excellent working relationship with the Workers Health Centre in Lidcombe. We have produced several significant reports around stevedoring safety including some great work by David Gerke on Behavioural Based Safety. David's work demonstrates the dangers of this type of safety approach and is compulsory reading for delegates and members. The MUA will produce this document in booklet form.

Behavioural Based Safety - A Delegates Perspective


….The feeling of working for a company that has implemented a Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) system….it’s like talking underwater…..soon enough you run out of breath and you’re gasping for air

….d r o w n i n g   s l o w l y!


BBS companies never look for root causes.  They always blame the worker.  Nine times out of ten, it’s a union member who’s blamed.   

The following scenario happened whilst I was a delegate:

True Story #1: A boilermaker went home after shift and was having a shower when a piece of metal that was in his hair or on his skin, washed down and lodged in his eye.  It was not until the next morning however, that the boilermaker felt the effects of the metal slither beginning to rust in his eye.

The company responded in the following manner.  At first, his manager said the injury was not work related!  Then, the manager tried to performance-counsel him for not wearing appropriate PPE (Balaclava).  Then, the manager tried to counsel him for not reporting the injury in a timely manner.  This fault-finding technique was all executed within the first 24 hours of the boilermaker receiving treatment for his eye injury.


The facts were as follows: (1) the boilermaker was working in a very confined space, (2) there was no fume or dust extraction provided, and therefore (3) the machinery the company provided blew metal filings and dust all over the confined space.  Inevitably, metal filings settled on his skin.


Further facts are as follows: (1) the boilermaker had previously reported these unsafe conditions to his supervisor, (2) his supervisor responded by saying: “JUST DO IT OR THERE’S THE GATE!” and therefore, (3) the boilermaker had to choose between the following: working on a job that he knows is unsafe; or refusing to do the job which would result in the accusation of ‘refusal of duty’.  The boilermaker was led to believe that ‘refusal of duty’ would lead to his dismissal!

These companies always said “Safety First” but in the same breath would require workers to do unsafe work until something went wrong, and then blame the worker for doing it unsafely.

During my time as a delegate there were many occasions when the so called OH&S Managers would report me to my supervisor.  They said they caught me without my safety glasses on or without my hardhat on (always fabricated, trying to load me up). This was never said to me but always reported, and the supervisor would then approach me saying I had been reported for non-compliance.


Having been a delegate for over 20 years in workplaces that implement BBS systems, I have witnessed first hand the way ‘hazard hiding’ is applied.  As a delegate I was on constant alert for things like this. I got to the point where I would stop everything I was doing when they came around, and look for the nearest witness that could verify I was wearing my PPE.  Career advancement and bonuses were withheld from me on the basis of safety breaches.


In response to this blatant discrimination, I finally threatened to go to H.R.E.O.C, and only after this threat did I finally received my pay rise.  As a result of the stance I took in an Asbestos Campaign at my workplace, I was stood down for three days and eventually “retrenched” two months later. As a delegate, I was only representing the members that elected me to look after their OHS needs!


Under the BBS, discrimination of this kind is actually encouraged.  You never get to tell your side of the story until you have lost your job.  Delegates like myself are singled out by false accusations of safety breaches which inevitably end in dismissal.


 I have personally experienced and witnessed the approach taken by companies in relation to treatment of injured workers and the Delegates who represent these workers.


“THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN HERE”, I hear you say, but as much as these systems say it’s not about blame, its application is very different on the shop floor.  Here are a few examples:


  • Supervisors and managers actually instructed workers to “get” questionable practices in their observations of other workers.  In many cases, workers are not informed that they are being observed. Most workers only find out that they are being observed when the supervisor begins chastising them for working unsafely. Which in itself contradicts this very system and is also illegal


  • Workers were instructed to get up at meetings and explain their accidents to fellow workers, “NOW EVERYONE KNOWS WHO HAD LOST THEM THEIR BONUS FOR THE MONTH”.


  • Managers and supervisors were very quick to discipline workers within 24 hours.  On some occasions, it occurred on the same day as the incident.  There was no due process and no full and proper investigation.


  • When investigations were carried out, the outcomes were never made public. The companies hide behind privacy laws and claims of legal privilege.  This results in information not being shared with the workforce. For example, incident reports are kept secret and never see the light of day.


As a delegate, I would “have” to argue that if someone was injured in an accident that could have been prevented by the release of this information. I would ensure the regulator was informed of this recklessness (I view it as criminal behaviour).   In preparation, I began to document incidents and followed these up by conducting my own independent investigations in my own time. I also critiqued BBS in essays submitted in achieving my Advanced Diploma in OH&S. It is worth noting that this perspective was deemed valid and robust by OH&S Teachers and Practioners 



Companies rely on this confrontation to hide hazards as well as not performing rectification work on hazards that are identified.  They have you chasing your tail constantly. 

I have only had one hazard report ever acted on in my working life! That was to replace basic equipment for the workshop. This was despite the many hazard reports that I submitted. Some of the hazards I identified were friable asbestos, confined space, work at height, unsafe overhead crane and zinc chromate, I hope you get the picture; the fact was that production always came first.


The reality of Behaviour Based Safety Systems “IS” that its focus is to find fault!  The individual worker is identifying the unsafe conditions in the workplace. This type of behaviour in Managers and Supervisors thrives under a BBS. 

It is in the subjective nature and individual interpretation of how Behaviour Based Systems are applied by Managers and Supervisors which creates a level of fear and mistrust in the workforce.


These are true and accurate accounts of my tenure as a delegate; they can be verified by personal diary, meeting minutes, hazard reports, transcripts and Provisional Improvement Notices issued by the regulator.

Therefore if you are in a workplace with BBS, it is absolutely essential for you as a Delegate to keep written records of all your dealings with company representatives.


No matter how trivial you think it is, written records are an important link between facts and blame!