Behaviour-Based Safety (BBS) and risk in the COVID-19 era

It is increasingly common that BBS systems rely on penalizing individual workers rather than creating a safe working environment. This shapes a workplace culture in which the individual responsibility of workers for their own safety and the safety of others displaces a collective responsibility for a safe workplace and corresponding employer obligations. One consequence is that workers face a multitude of penalties that reinforce individual blame, rather than their ability or capacity to work safely. Workplace investigations into industrial health and safety incidents, for example, seek to allocate blame rather than investigate cause. A workplace culture of individual blame, fear and punishment will significantly diminish the openness and communication needed to address the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. 

Related to this is the practice in which employers require employees to report on their co-workers on a regular basis. Rather than involving workers’ representatives and effectively addressing unsafe work practices through negotiating change, many employers require employees to catch their co-workers making mistakes and report them directly to their supervisors. This leads to warnings and financial penalties for the worker accused of unsafe behaviour. In many cases it is a requirement to report on a minimum number of safety infractions by co-workers. Reporting on co-workers is then factored into individual performance appraisals and rewarded. This practice not only creates an environment of distrust, but prevents the openness, communication and collaboration needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Published by Hidayat Greenfield

IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary

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