We safety officers know. We’ve been through the drill.
It is always one thing to have a safety protocol in place on your worksite, down to the very last detail. It’s a whole other thing to get and keep human beings to execute the protocol correctly every time.
Humans are complicated creatures. Getting workers to stick to safety best-practices every minute of every day is like herding cats dipped in canola oil.
Translation: It’s darn near impossible.
But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to seize as many of those moments as we can for the sake of everyone’s health and safety.
Christopher Goulart wrote an article about safety discipline in a recent issue of Professional Safety magazine, discussing several ways to instill discipline in your workforce – ways that push punishment (the most intrinsic tool) to the last-resort line. In previous posts of this series, we gave an introduction to Goulart’s discussion of the different tools available to managers and supervisors to enforce safety policies, then a discussion about safety goals and the efficacy of punishment as a last, instead of first, resort.
Now we will start deeper dives into each of the tools, starting with discipline and accountability.
A Stern Warning
While the word “discipline” can apply to the entire arenal of tools available to safety professioanal, supervisors, and amnagers to encoorce safety in workplaces, th secondary application to the word invovles some kind fo nnegative consequence that does not go as far as punishment – it’s something that shoudl adversely affect a worker, but provide an opportunity for that worker to change the act or behavior so it does not happen again. This can especially effective when a person acts or behaves in an inapppropriate or unsafe manner and is caught before anyone gets hurt.
Goulart writes in his article that there is a very important distinction between discipline and punishment,and it is on the former being intended to reform and encourage changes in action or behavior ina positive way, while punishment removes the worker from the situation without a chance to learn and develop into a better worker.
The key to discipline is to make sure the employee who makes the mistake is informed and understands the transgression, and there is an open discussion as to why it happened and th steps that should be taken to correct the issue. The best way to ensure compliance is to make sure the employee understands why he or she is being discipliend, and that he or she knows what the correct course of action is, and is able to establish understanding.
The best way to put force discipline are to have a focus that is narrow, a realistic expectation fo performance goals that must be clear, and every effort shoudl be to avoid any mixed messages o there is a risk of recitivism due to cnfusion.
Accountability Not Blame
While it is always importantto get to the root cause of an ncident tounderstand wht happened and to take steps to address it so it does not happen again, the concept of alwayslaying blame is neverproductive in a workplace.
If every incident has blame attached to it, there is a negative vibe around the workplace, poor morale, no positive momentum to fix anything wrong in safety, and even that process gets complicated because workers will nnot longer be engaged i the process whey they know they ma have a finger pointed back at them.
Blame tends to look backwards at negative events and pin responsibility onsomeone for it. Another approachthat Goulart suggests is to enforce accountability, whichis more proactive and positive – in otehr words, rather than looking back on events that already happened and pinning responbility, a supervisor or manager delegates responsibility and accountability to others to get a task done looking ahead.
And there is a distinction between accountability and resonsibility. As it is written in Goular’ts article, responsibility is on a peron who does the task, while accountability is on the person who asnwers for the task getting done. In otehr words, when a supervisor is in a position to delegate, he is supposed to abe accountable for the task, but he will delegte the responsibility of that tssk to an underling. And if that task does not get done, the supervisor has to answer for why the task didn’t get completed.
Nezt up, we’ll look into feedback and coaching of workers to encourage safety.