Monday, March 4, 2013

Eliminate Discipline from Safety Programs

Almost every safety program is based solely on compliance to OSHA or some other regulatory agency. Compliance based safety programs, and many safety professionals and managers, rely on discipline to enforce, and reinforce, compliance to the rules. Companies that use discipline routinely have a parent child work culture. Top down directive actions drive the activities within the business and people are afraid to take actions on their own. Managers make statements like, “we need to send a strong message to all of our employees,” when deciding on the severity of the discipline being considered for a safety rule violation. If a management team is happy with a mediocre business, and a safety program based on compliance alone, they can and should continue to drive fear through the workplace by using discipline. But if they are trying to build a world class organization they must drive fear from the workplace. Great leaders understand that building trust is the key to business improvement. They also understand every action they take either builds or tears down the level of trust. Discipline is a trust killer.

In my workshops I ask if anyone, as an adult, has tripped and fallen to the ground. When I ask those who have raised their hands, what was the first thing you did after falling, they laugh and agree it was to look to see if anyone had seen them fall. If indeed they were observed falling they also agreed the second response was to call out, “I am okay.” When queried as to why this was their reaction to falling they make statements like, “I was embarrassed.” Individuals who are injured on the job also are embarrassed and suffer physical pain. I believe that is enough. Making then feel worse, or making an example of them, by issuing discipline is of no value to a business today. Rather than issuing discipline, and killing trust, build trust by engaging the injured in defining and implementing work process changes that will prevent the possibility of someone being injured while performing the same task in the future. Make accident investigation meetings continuous improvement meetings. Focus on the “what” and “why”, and not the “who”. This new intentional response to injuries will start to create an adult workplace because trust is extended by management with the hope of earning it in return.

Discipline is woven into the fabric of compliance based safety programs and used as a tool by those who manage them. Insurance carriers even ask their clients to provide discipline records as a way of ensuring a company is serious about safety! This is a very contentious subject in the compliance based safety community and I have had some emotional responses when I suggest we should stop using discipline. What I understand, and what they may not, is that a safety culture cannot be improved if discipline is used – period. My goal is to change how the world views safety. I want everyone to understand that safety can be a continuous improvement activity and people cannot be living in fear if you want them to participate with their hearts and minds. Stay safe.