COVID-19 Behavioral Infection Prevention

Behavioral science can be a part of your toolkit to prevent infections in your workplace.

In these extremely challenging times, the behavioral experts at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (CCBS) would like to share some behavioral tips for optimizing your work environment for virus infection prevention.

CCBS Behavioral Safety: Safer Behavior; Fewer Injuries by Beth Sulzer-Azaroff
An electronics technician stretches in his chair while soldering an instrument, falls over backwards and chips his elbow. Months ago, the worker had complained to his supervisor about the fact that his chair was broken, but nothing had been done about it. He is out of work for weeks while his co-workers grumble about the company’s lack of caring for its employees. Elsewhere, in a small appliance assembly plant, a glut of orders has been flooding in. The pressure mounts to speed up the line and demand that people work overtime. After a few months, a growing number of workers are absent due to repetitive strain and back injuries. At still another site, a highly inventive engineer designs a set of hoists to assist lifting heavy objects, but several employees avoid using the new equipment, protesting that they’ve been lifting even heavier stuff unaided for years and have the muscles to prove it.

Familiar examples? Undoubtedly you could easily suggest how such a problem could have been prevented: better enforcement of safety policies; added training; improved engineering; firmer discipline; hiring more workers and so on. Yet, more often than not, simple solutions turn out to be misleading. Improvements don’t last because personnel slide back into their former habits. Increasingly, those concerned with worker well-being realize that sustaining a safe workplace requires ongoing collaboration among different individuals and groups: engineers, policy makers, occupational health and safety specialists, and others.

If we pause to think about it, one particular facet keeps begging for our attention: that of human behavior. In each of the examples cited above, one or more things was neglected on the human performance side of safety. In the first case, it could have been the supervisor’s failure to replace or repair the broken chair; or the worker’s neglecting to fill out a form requesting the repair or simply using improper body posture; or management’s unwillingness to spend money on what it regarded as a frivolous request. Maybe the requisition for the chair was approved but never purchased; or the order form got lost, or a clerk failed to follow through when it failed to arrive; possibly the chair had arrived but remained on the loading platform for weeks while assembly parts and products were given precedence; and on and on. The same sort of analysis could be done with each of the other cases. Somehow, somewhere, the things people did or failed to do doubtlessly played a part in causing the injury.

It is exactly this behavioral aspect that recently has drawn the attention of safety specialists. As scientific understanding keeps increasing about why people do the things they do and how human behavior can be altered, fewer people are getting hurt on the job. Teaching individuals about what behavior principles are important and coaching and supporting the efforts of managers, supervisors, safety staff, and workers themselves in how best to apply them has been making a real difference. In factories, hospitals, schools, farms, construction sites, out on the highway; and elsewhere employees are acting more safely and suffering fewer injuries – all as a function of behavioral technology. By way of example, the research efforts of Jorma Saari and his colleagues, have advanced the wellness of thousands of workers in Finland simply by improving the orderliness of their work environments.

As in any worthwhile endeavor, increasing proficiency in promoting safe performance does take time and effort. Nevertheless, it can and should be accomplished. The numbers of available books, training seminars, college courses, and consultation and coaching sources are multiplying. In fact, these broadened possibilities have begun to create a real dilemma for potential consumers wanted to make wise selections. A study currently underway seems to indicate that one’s best bet is to look for behavior-focused programs that offer hard evidence resulting from their own prior work that:

  1. injury rates have dropped;
  2. safe performance increases have endured;
  3. all key constituencies accept the system; and
  4. costs have diminished.

Program elements should emphasize the following:

  1. both employee and managerial involvement in the process;
  2. specification of target behaviors derived from safety assessments;
  3. observational data collection;
  4. decisions about how best to proceed based on those data;
  5. change methods such as state-of-the-art training or motivational tactics like goal-setting and regularly following improved performance with feedback and positive consequences.

Dr. Beth Sulzer-Azaroff is Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and former Board Chair of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, a non-profit organization devoted to informing the public about the science of behavior and its humane applications. Dr. Sulzer-Azaroff is a leading behavioral scholar and researcher in the field of occupational safety.

Behavioral Safety from the Consumer's Perspective:Determining WHO Really Provides Behavioral Safety by Grainne A. Matthews

What is the “behavioral” in behavioral safety?

Behavioral Safety is one application within a larger field called Organizational Behavior Analysis. Organizational Behavior Analysis applies the principles and findings of Behavior Analysis to the performance of organized groups of people. Behavior Analysis uses the scientific method to study individual performance. The phenomena of interest to those responsible for safety are the behaviors of the individuals in their organization that prevent injuries. Behavior Analysis is relatively new in comparison to the other scientific disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and there remains much about human behavior that we have yet to explore and explain. However, we have come a long way towards a coherent understanding of the fundamental principles that explain our behavior. The scientific research already done has allowed us to develop some basic technologies that have been successfully applied in our efforts to support safe behavior at work.

  • Basic research in behavior analysis – 100 years
  • Applied research – 40 years
  • Organizational applications – 30 years
  • Safety – 20 years

What are the defining features of a behavioral approach?


  • Specify the behaviors and results to be improved
  • Determine an objective way to measure those behaviors and results
  • Use principles of behavior to develop methods to change current performance
  • Implement these methods and evaluate their effectiveness

Data oriented

  • Use valid and reliable data to evaluate the effectiveness of change strategies
  • Measure performance objectively and accurately

Scientific problem solving

  • Define behavior precisely – “operationally define” or pinpoint
  • Experiment – conduct a “functional analysis” and rule out other variables
  • Consistently replicate findings under different circumstances

What would a high quality behavioral intervention look like?

1. It would begin with a functional analysis of the current situation.

A. Operationally define the target behaviors

  • What does “safe behavior” look like?
  • What does “unsafe behavior” look like?
  • Pinpoint the performance so that two people can independently observe the behavior or the result and agree on what has occurred.

Example: In our company, we have had three near misses this year caused by faulty equipment on tow motors. In all three cases we discovered that the drivers had not conducted a thorough inspection of the tow motors before driving, as required by company policy. If they had conducted an inspection as trained, the broken turn signal, the failing brakes, and the bald tires would have been discovered and repaired. So the safe behavior that we want to see increase is conducting a thorough inspection before operating a tow motor. And we want a decrease in the opposite unsafe performance. Safe Performance Before driving a tow motor in the warehouse, the driver:

  • First thoroughly inspects the vehicle and ensures that systems are fully operational, for example, lights, backup warning, signals, brakes, mirrors, etc.
  • Arranges for any necessary repair before driving it.

Unsafe Performance

  • Drives a vehicle without inspecting it first.
  • Conducts only a cursory inspection of the vehicle.
  • Drives a tow motor on which a problem has been discovered.

B. Conduct a functional analysis

Since behavior is a function of its consequences, we must examine the consequences of the current performance and of the desired performance. We can then identify the variables that support the safe and unsafe behaviors and can design effective interventions.

  • What function does the safe behavior serve for the people involved?
  • What are the antecedents and consequences that support safe behavior?
  • What function does the unsafe behavior serve for the people involved?
  • What are the antecedents and consequences that support unsafe behavior?
  • Which elements necessary to support safe behavior are missing?
  • What factors operate as barriers to safe performance?

2. It would continue with the design of an approach that is based on proven technologies for:

  • Adding or strengthening the necessary antecedents and consequences for safe behavior
  • Removing or weakening the antecedents and consequences supporting unsafe behavior
  • Ensuring that the change will continue and generalize to new situations

3. To be a high quality behavioral safety effort, the process would:

  • Reliably measure safe and unsafe behaviors and their results
  • Validate that the technology was being implemented correctly and consistently
  • Monitor and analyze behavioral and outcome data on an ongoing basis
  • Systematically adjust the entire process in response to the data
  • Plan for maintenance and generalization.

When is “Behavioral Safety” not Behavioral Safety?

When it:

  • Teaches generalized, abstract theory without offering concrete, proven methods for changing performance
  • Recommends strategy and methods based on anecdotes or individual experience rather than scientific evidence
  • Says that you will see results in the long run but you can’t expect immediate improvements
  • Claims success when people’s safety attitudes or awareness changes without observing an increase in actual safe actions and a decrease in incidents and injuries
  • Addresses only antecedents and does not arrange for strengthened consequences, e.g., training or education

What should you ask when interviewing a behavioral safety consultant?

  • What is your training in behavior analysis and organizational behavior analysis?
  • What experience have you had designing and implementing performance improvement systems based on the scientific principles of behavior?
  • How will you determine the behaviors and results that will improve our safety performance?
  • How will you objectively and reliably measure these behaviors and results?
  • What analysis will you conduct that will indicate the missing or weak links in our safety system?
  • What strategies will you use to increase the consistency of safe behavior and results?
  • How do these strategies address the weak link?
  • What scientific evidence supports your choice of these strategies?
  • How will you evaluate the success of these strategies in our company?
  • What data will you use and how will you analyze it?
  • How will you arrange for generalization and maintenance?

Grainne A. Matthews, PhD, Quality Safety Edge

How to Get More People Involved in Behavior-Based Safety: Selling an Effective Process by E. Scott Geller
Behavior-based safety (BBS) is an effective approach to preventing occupational injuries, and its healthful influence on work cultures is spreading worldwide. However, BBS only reaches its remarkable potential when everyone in an industrial complex understands BBS principles and practices BBS procedures. Unfortunately, many organizations that attempt to reap the benefits of BBS do not obtain or sustain comprehensive participation in BBS-related activities. This paper offers some reasons for resistance to BBS, and introduces ten practical strategies for getting more widespread acceptance of BBS and more large-scale involvement in the implementation of BBS procedures. Several strategies for encouraging participation in BBS actually reflect basic BBS principles, such as developing process-focused goals and metrics, and making behavior-based feedback a positive experience. Other suggestions are derived from social learning theory, including the promotion of self-efficacy, response-efficacy, and outcome-expectancy. It is hoped this paper will initiate further consideration and conversation about ways to enhance involvement in BBS and thereby reduce the occurrence of unintentional injuries, fatalities, and property-damage incidents.

Trusted Safety Sources


The Seal

Behavioral Safety Accreditation

Behavioral Safety Accreditation Seal

The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies™ takes pride in recognizing companies who achieve world-class behavior-based safety.

This seal tells the world that your workplace meets the high standards of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies™. A recognized source of scientific information on behavior.

Accreditation recognizes exemplary long-term performance in the application of behavioral principles to workplace safety. Know that your programs meet principles of behavior-based safety standards.

Accreditation Award

Accreditation Award

Accredit your Behavioral Safety Program

To be eligible for Accreditation applicants must demonstrate:

  1. The company’s or site’s Principles of Behavior Based Safety (PBBS) program is a valid behavioral program (i.e., the program measures behavior change and solutions are based on principles of behavior),
  2. The PBBS program is effective (e.g., produces increases in critical safety behaviors and decreases in incidence rates or other safety metrics that exceed company-wide and / or industry averages),
  3. That after implementation, the PBBS program is sustained and safety performance improvements are maintained for a minimum of three continuous years.

Applicants with developing PBBS programs not yet achieving the above eligibility criteria can apply for review at the Bronze of Silver certification levels. The CCBS Accreditation Commission may then contract to assess the organization’s program and submit an objective review of its current operations and provide recommendations to guide program development.

Start Your Accreditation

Click on the links below to learn about the process and submit your safety program information to begin the accreditation process:

Award Types and Levels - Accreditation Standards

Contact Form - Download this MSWord Document, complete and send to start the process to accredit your safety program. Our Commission will contact you for the initial interview.

Fee Structure

For further information or assistance, contact Dr. Timothy Ludwig, Managing Commissioner, Commission on Accreditation,


The Benefits
Recognizes responsible and effective behavioral management

Many companies have times when people were hurt or injured at work. Safety engineering and management have considerably improved conditions over many decades of research and effort. Leaders and managers of companies learn that managing safety behaviors at all levels of the company is key to achieving and sustaining outstanding safety performance. Accreditation verifies that your program’s behavior management systems are helping people work together to identify risks, change critical behavior, prevent losses and save lives.

Provides expert and neutral third-party assessment and feedback

A thorough review of your program and an accreditation site visit will provide specific feedback and recommendations from behavioral safety experts on your program’s strengths and development needs. Your program and your people will benefit from this feedback while learning from CCBS safety and behavioral experts, who are there to assess your program, not sell consulting services.

Challenges everyone to do better

As a certified or an accredited company, you assume leadership in safety and stand out in your industry. Leaders innovate and set an example for others. Your company will help others achieve similar safety performance through CCBS standards. Others will look to you for guidance.

Brings a competitive advantage in business

Customers value companies who care about the safety of their employees. High quality safety performance is good business.


The Commission
Commission on Accreditation for Behavioral Safety

The Commission is comprised of CCBS experts who are experienced in both the implementation and evaluation of high quality behavioral safety program as well as behavioral research.


To identify and recognize through the award of Accreditation and dissemination of best-practices, exemplary workplace programs that have demonstrated sustained effectiveness in the application of principles of behavior to improve and sustain the safety of employees.


Timothy Ludwig, PhD, Managing Commissioner, Appalachian State University

Mark Alavosius, PhD, University of Nevada, Reno

Donald H. Kernan, Financial Manager, Key Activities Management & SUPERVALU Inc. (retired)

Angela Lebbon, PhD, Eastman Chemical Company

Sigurdur Sigurdsson, PhD, The Icelandic Centre for Research

Oliver Wirth, PhD, Standards Manager, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Associate Commissioners

Alan Cheung, Costain, Ltd.

Sandy Knott, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies

Adjunct Member

Eric Nickless, Marathon Petroleum Company LLC, Illinois Refining Division (IRD)

Emeritus Posthumous

Dwight Harshbarger, PhD

Bill Hopkins, PhD

The Commission on Accreditation – Behavioral Safety

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