Beware Behavioural Safety systems

Major private sector health and safety consultants and businesses have been pushing 'behavioural safety systems' to employers in the UK and, worryingly, they are appearing on the horizon in the rail industry.

American trade unionists know these systems as BS systems and send out warnings against what they tell us are 'blame the worker' systems linking health and safety injuries to disciplinary procedures against workers.

BS systems are based on discredited research into accident reports written by managers, which found that 88-96% of all workplace accidents are caused by 'unsafe acts' by workers.

What BS ignores is the fact that for an incident to take place there has to be a hazard present. Instead of focussing on removing the hazard, or controlling it safely, BS focusses on the behaviour of the 'unsafe' worker. The implication is that workers are the problem.


ASLEF’s view is the opposite:


  • All injuries and illnesses at work are the result of exposure to hazards
  • The way to make work safer and healthier is to eliminate or properly control workplace hazards
  • It is the employer who is responsible for achieving this

BS systems are clearly attractive to employers as they blame the worker, not the employer, for failing to manage hazards. This can lead to under-reporting of incidents and undermines the role of trade union safety representatives.

But it would be much easier for employers to talk to their employees about health and safety to and try to control hazards at work – and the agreed way to do this is through the union.

ASLEF health and safety representatives should ask their employer for the details of any health and safety training given to employees, including managers, and to raise any concerns about the introduction of a behavioural safety system.

The ORR agrees with ASLEF that some rail employers are already over-using “For Cause” tests. Negotiations are on-going.

For more information on BS visit the Hazards Campaign website.