How does your company react after a workplace injury? Do you punish employees whose actions led to the accident? Or do you focus on accident investigation for preventing future incidents? Here are some strategies you may use to discourage employees from unsafe behavior.
Focus on Punishment for Unsafe Behavior
Some companies will fire or demote employees who are involved in accidents due to failure to follow safety procedures in an effort to show their commitment to safety. The downside of using this type of punishment is that it creates an adversarial relationship between workers and management and may also encourage workers to under-report injuries and near-misses. We believe disciplinary action should always be tied to the worker's behavior, not just to the fact that an accident occurred.
Focus on Investigation and Corrective Actions
Other companies avoid using punishment after an accident as a strategy to discourage unsafe behavior and instead focus on using accidents and incidents as a learning opportunity. Instead of focusing on assigning blame and punishment, these companies focus on fixing the procedures and systems involved to minimize the possibility of a repeat incident.
Our Recommendation: A Balanced Approach
We recommend a balanced approach to dealing with unsafe behavior that combines (1) employee discipline for unsafe behaviors and (2) accident investigation to learn from each accident or near-miss that occurs. It is also important that safety rules and consequences for not following them are communicated to your employees clearly and enforced consistently.
Your employee disciplinary policy should require written warnings for any violations of safety rules. If an employee violates safety rules repeatedly you could use unpaid suspension as a punishment for unsafe behavior. Your policy could provide for termination of an employee for the following conduct:
- Behaviors which you have identified previously as "zero tolerance" behaviors;
- Excessive and repeated safety or health violations;
- Purposely ignoring safety or health rules;
- Unsafe actions that seriously jeopardize the safety or health of others;
- General disregard for safety and health of self and others.
When an accident or near-miss occurs, the focus should be on conducting an investigation, identifying the root cause, and implementing corrective actions to prevent another accident like this in the future. Read more about accident investigation here. By taking the focus away from assigning blame and involving your employees in preventing accidents, you avoid creating an incentive to underreport incidents and increase the safety awareness of your employees.