Women in Behavior-Based Safety

By Nicole Gravina, PhD, John Austin, PhD, and Jessica Nastasi, MA, BCBA in honor of International Women’s Day.

Behavior-based safety (BBS), the most well-known application of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), was founded by two women.

That may come as a surprise to some.

Most people assume that workplace safety is an industry dominated by men, and data on safety professionals suggest that is true. A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Safety Professionals showed that only 19% of safety professionals identified as women (ASSP, 2019).

Although the gender gap in the safety profession may be sizable, the contributions of women in behavioral safety are far from small. One would be remiss to mention the development of BBS without crediting two women, Drs. Judy Komaki and Beth Sulzer-Azaroff.

Behavior analysts, Drs. Judi Komaki and Beth Sulzer-Azaroff, independently published papers demonstrating a behavioral approach to injury reduction more than forty years ago (Komaki et al., 1978; Sulzer-Azaroff, 1978). Dr. Komaki was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology then, and published numerous papers on behavioral safety and leadership (some cited below). She also helped Behavioral Science Technologies (BST; the largest BBS consulting company with clients worldwide, now a part of Dekra) develop their widely popular and effective BBS process.

Dr. Sulzer-Azaroff published numerous important works on safety that both advanced the field and contributed to dissemination. For example, Sulzer-Azaroff and de Santamaria (1980) used feedback to improve hazard recognition in a manufacturing setting, and Sulzer-Azaroff and Fellner (1984) established a methodology to identify safety targets. Dr. Sulzer-Azaroff and her students also extended this research into non-industrial settings like healthcare (Alavosius & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1986) and office work (McCann & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1996).

Today, several women continue to lead and advance the ever-growing field of behavioral safety. Dr. Angelica Grindle (author of a safety review on BBS in manufacturing settings, Grindle et al., 2000) is now the Vice President of Client Engagement at Dekra, a more than $3 billion international safety company. Dr. Judy Agnew (author of three behavioral safety books listed below) is the Senior Vice President of Safety Solutions at Aubrey Daniels International, one of the leading and oldest BBS consulting firms in the world. Both women are shaping the future of behavioral safety interventions in organizations on a large scale and positively impacting organizations and their employees.

Women are also leading in behavioral safety research. Dr. Alicia Alvero (along with her then advisor, Dr. John Austin) was the first to identify the Observer Effect, demonstrating that safety observers may improve their own safety performance (Alvero & Austin, 2004; Alvero et al., 2008). Dr. Angela Lebbon ran a series of studies demonstrating reactivity in behavior from being observed before and after the safety observation (Lebbon et al., 2012; Lebbon & Austin, 2013). The first author of this post has published several papers on ergonomics, leadership, process safety and others in this area, including a demonstration of the impact of teaching behavior analysis to leaders on the injuries at a petrochemical plant (Gravina et al., 2019).

Several other women trained in behavior analysis have gone on to have a significant impact on safety. For example, Dr. Grainne Matthews is a former Senior Vice President at Quality Safety Edge and has published articles and research on behavioral safety (McSween & Matthews, 2001; Hagge et al., 2017). Dr. Kathy Culig is a Principal Consultant at Dekra and has contributed to the research literature (e.g., Culig et al., 2008). Sherry Purdue is a Co-founder and Senior Partner at Safety Performance Solutions.

Safety is often considered a male-dominated field, and there are many examples of men contributing to the development and dissemination of behavioral safety. However, it is important to recognize that behavioral safety would not be what it is today without significant contributions from women.

Recently we have seen applications of behavior analysis in safety expand beyond the BBS process to behavioral safety leadership, process safety, health and wellness, and more. The field is ripe with opportunities to learn and contribute to the health and safety of employees in meaningful ways. Women can and should be on the leading edge of these innovations, too, standing on the shoulders of giants, many of whom happen to be women.

Below is curated a list of readings on behavioral safety by women.

A Sample of Important Female-Authored Books in Behavior-Based Safety and Safety Leadership

Agnew, J., & Snyder, G. (2008). Removing obstacles to safety. Performance Management.

Agnew, J., & Daniels, A. (2010). Safe by accident. Take the luck out of safety: Leadership practices that build a sustainable safety culture. Performance Management.

Agnew, J. (2016). A supervisor’s guide to safety leadership. Performance Management.

A Sample of Important Scientific Articles in Behavior-Based Safety with Female Authors

Two Must-Read Articles:

Komaki J., Barwick, K., & Scott, L. (1978). A behavioral approach to occupational safety: Pinpointing and reinforcing safety performance in a food manufacturing plant. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63, pp 434-445. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.63.4.434

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & de Santamaria, M. C. (1980). Industrial safety hazard reduction through performance feedback. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 3, pp 287-295. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1980.13-287

More Articles to Read:

Alavosius, M. P., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1986). The effects of performance feedback on the safety of client lifting and transfer. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis19(3), 261–267. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1986.19-261

Alvero, A. M., & Austin, J. (2004). The effects of conducting behavioral observations on the behavior of the observer. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(4), 457-468. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2004.37-457

Alvero, A.M., Rost, K. & Austin, J. (2008). The safety observer effect: The effects of conducting safety observations. Journal of Safety Research, 39(4), pp 365-373. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2008.05.004

Culig, K. M., Dickinson, A. M., Lindstrom-Hazel, D., & Austin, J. (2008). Combining workstation design and performance management to increase ergonomically correct computer typing postures. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management(3), 28, 146- 174. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608060802251064

Fellner, D. J., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1984). Increasing industrial safety practices and conditions through posted feedback. Journal of Safety Research,15(1), pp 17-21. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-4375(84)90026-4

Fellner, D. J., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1984). A behavioral analysis of goal setting. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 6(1), pp 33-51.  https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v06n01_03

Fellner, D. J., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1985) Occupational safety: Assessing the impact of adding assigned or participative goal setting. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 7(1-2), pp 3-24. https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v07n01_02

Gravina, N., Austin, J, Schroedter, L., & Loewy, S. (2008). The effects of self-monitoring on safe postural performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 28(4), 238-259. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608060802454825

Gravina, N., Cummins, B., & Austin, J. (2017). Leadership’s role in process safety: An understanding of behavioral science among managers is needed. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 37(3-4), 316-331. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608061.2017.1340925

Gravina, N., Hazel, D., & Austin, J. (2007). Evaluating the effects of workstation changes, the Rollermouse keyboard and behavioral safety on performance in an office setting. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, & Rehabilitation, 29, 245-253. PMID: 17942996

Gravina, N., King, A., & Austin, J. (2019). Coaching leaders to use behavioral science to improve safety. Safety Science, 112, 66-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2018.10.013

Gravina, N., Loewy, S., Rice, A., & Austin, J. (2013). Using self-monitoring and intensive accuracy training to improve safe postural performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 33(1), 68-76. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608061.2012.729397

Grindle, A.C., Dickinson, A.M. & Boettcher, W. (2000). Behavioral Safety Research in Manufacturing Settings: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 20(1), 29 – 68. https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v20n01_03

Ilgen D. R., Fisher, C. D., & Taylor, M. S. (1979) Consequences of individual feedback on behavior in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 64(4), 349-371. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.64.4.349

King, A., Gravina, N., & Sleiman, A. (2018). Observing the observer. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management38(4), 306-323. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608061.2018.1514346

Komaki, J. L., Collins, R. L., & Penn, P. (1982). The role of performance antecedents and consequences in work motivation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(3), 334-340. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.67.3.334

Komaki, J. L., Heinzmann, A. T., & Lawson, L. (1980). Effect of training and feedback: Component analysis of a behavioral safety program. Journal of Applied Psychology, 65(3), 261-270. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.65.3.261

Komaki J., Barwick, K., & Scott, L. (1978). A behavioral approach to occupational safety: Pinpointing and reinforcing safety performance in a food manufacturing plant. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63(4), 434-445. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.63.4.434

Krause, T.R., Seymour, K.J., Sloat, K.C.M. (1999). Long-term evaluation of a behavior- based method for improving safety performance: a meta-analysis of 73 interrupted time- series replications. Safety Science, 32(1),1-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0925-7535(99)00007-7

Lebbon, A. R., & Austin, J. (2013). A preliminary examination of the effects of observer presence on work-related behavior in a simulated office. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 33(3), 185-199. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608061.2013.815095

Lebbon, A., Sigurdsson, S. O., & Austin, J. (2012). Behavioral safety in the food services industry: Challenges and outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 32, 44-57. https://doi.org/10.1080/01608061.2011.592792

Lebbon, A. R., Sigurjónsson, J. G., & Austin, J. (2012). The effects of work sampling and feedback on individuals’ work-and safety-related behaviour prior to, during, and after observer presence. Global Business and Economics Review14(3), 226-247. https://doi.org/10.1504/GBER.2012.047806

Lingard H. & Rowlinson, S. (1998). Behaviour-based safety management in Hong Kong’s construction industry: the results of a field study. Construction Management and Economics,16(4), 481-488. https://doi.org/10.1080/014461998372259

McCann, K. B., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1996). Cumulative trauma disorders: Behavioral injury prevention at work. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 32(3), 277-291. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021886396323003

Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1978) Behavioral ecology and accident prevention. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 2(1), 11-44. https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v02n01_02

Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1987). The modification of occupational safety behavior. Journal of Occupational Accidents, 9(3), 177-197. https://doi.org/10.1016/0376-6349(87)90011-3

Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1992). Making a difference in occupational safety with behavior management. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(3), 653-54. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1992.25-653

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Austin, J. (2000) Does BBS work? Behavior-based safety and injury reduction: A survey of the evidence. American Society of Engineers, Professional Safety, July 2000, 19-24. https://aeasseincludes.assp.org/professionalsafety/pastissues/045/07/027724ar.pdf

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Fellner, D. (1984). Searching for performance targets in the behavior analysis of occupational safety: An assessment strategy. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 6(2), 53-65. https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v06n02_09

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & de Santamaria, M. C. (1980). Industrial safety hazard reduction through performance feedback. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13(2), 287-295. https:doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1980.13-287

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., Loafman, B., Merante, R. J., & Hlavacek, A. C. (1990). Improving occupational safety in a large industrial plant: A systematic replication. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 11(1), 99-120. https://doi.org/10.1300/J075v11n01_07

Reference not listed above:

ASSP (2019). Women and safety in the modern workplace. https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/assp_women_and_safety_report_0419.pdf?sfvrsn=28&utm_campaign=general&utm_content=1556290079&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

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