The science of management has changed very little in the last six decades. In many organizations, we bumble through dealing with people and different types of (mis)management. In companies, as field technicians and practitioners get promoted, they often times don’t get any continuing types of education, skill, or training. This happens for a number of different reasons, but it outside of the scope of this particular blog post, so we won’t get into it.
However, an article caught my eye, and although on the surface it has nothing to do with safety, it has everything to do with safety.
In “Judge Asks People to Stop Wearing Pajamas in Court,” it describes the exasperation of a district court judge, who believes that people should not wear their pajamas in the court room. There’s no rule against it, hence the problem. As safety leaders, we’ll do well to draw this parallel: When people are forced to comply with a set of rules, the best we’ll ever get from them is the bare minimum.
“A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to a poor result”
– Thomas A. Edison
In the judge’s case, he’s created another “rule” or normative statement that which defendants (whom I’ll remind you are there against their will, e.g. being forced to comply) will either accept or reject. In the absence of any kind of incentives, or shared accountability, my guess is that it won’t change any behaviors.
Occupational health and safety is no different. We can create rules, policies, procedures, programs and the like, but when line personnel are given no choice but to comply (e.g. “Working safely is a condition of employment”), how can we be surprised when we get the bare minimum effort?
This is one reason that safety management systems are of paramount importance to organizations. ANSI/AIHA Z10, OHSAS 18001, and ISO 45001 have engagement requirements; organizations have to be able to demonstrate that personnel at all levels of the organization have the opportunity to give input and feedback into nearly all phases of the safety management lifecycle.
When organizations include non-managerial employees in the design, development, and implementation of a safety management system, they create shared accountability (e.g. ownership) for the system, which is a de facto incentive for participation in ongoing risk and hazard reduction. It also reduces communication barriers through discussions about risk reduction goals, operational controls, and how to keep continually improving as an organization.