COMPLIANCE ONLY GOES SO FAR
Commitment Changes Culture
As a consultant I’ve learned that companies approach safety in different ways. Some balance the need for compliance with commitment to their employees while others focus merely on compliance. It’s hard to argue that maintaining compliance with OSHA regulations shouldn’t be part of an organization’s approach. I’d argue that focusing merely on compliance only goes so far when it comes to the wellbeing of employees.
OSHA provides guidelines for creating and maintaining a safe work environment. Notice the use of the word guidelines, not playbook. There is not a page in the standards that we can turn to for every scenario that arises. Therefore, our safety efforts need to consult OSHA standards and include common sense approaches that focus on protecting employees. As leaders we need to be committed to eliminating exposure, fostering accountability, offering feedback and recognition, involving employees in safety conversations, and defining what being safe actually looks like. Our dedication to safety must be driven by our commitment to employees, not compliance alone.
Early in my career I worked in a corporate safety department. I frequently referenced OSHA when communicating with employees. I believed that using OSHA as reinforcement would motivate them to take the right precautions and address hazards. Over time, I realized that the message I was sending did not express the level of commitment that the company had to their employees. Sure, we did not want to be cited for hazards or lack of programs, but the real reason for the safety effort was the well-being of the employee.
Upon reflection I started to think of the message from the employee standpoint. What do employees think when the management team starts fixing hazards in the work area solely because they may be “concerned about an OSHA inspection or possible citation.” Perhaps they believe that issues are being addressed for fear of a citation rather than concern for their well-being.
I encourage you to reflect on the messages being sent to employees when it comes to safety. Try to eliminate compliance from safety conversations. Focus on the “Why” and the commitment the organization has toward keeping people free from harm and eliminating hazards. It will take conscious focus at first, but in time it will become second nature. Compliance is important, but in the end, commitment changes culture.
Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at email@example.com