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Compliance vs. Culture: Why You Should Embrace Safety Management

Safety management is something we all constantly contend and grapple with in our approach to do business the right way. how do we know if our aim is true? How can we measure our success? How do we know when we strike the mark? The answers to these questions are not always evident, and the difference between striking the mark and missing the target altogether can look very similar on the surface. 

To plot a course through the fog, we need to ask ourselves these two simple questions. Are we managing for safety to gain compliance? Or are we leading toward safety to develop a culture? 

Image of a boss and an employee discussing workplace safety and risk management strategies.

Why Safety Management Just for Compliance’s Sake Doesn’t Work

If we just manage safety to gain compliance, then our message to employees is often lost under the guise of authority and mistrust. This leads employees to only do the things we ask because they have to and not because they want to. 

Simply managing for safety is often reactive, and uses rules and discipline to gain compliance from your workforce. This approach often misses the mark because our employees don’t understand the “why” behind our message, so our communication comes across with the sting of control or policing. This method rarely produces the outcomes we are looking for and, more often than not, creates a disenfranchised workforce. 

Consequently, we find ourselves incessantly harping on our employees to wear their provided Personal Protective Equipment or do things the way we trained them to. This is effective while you are present, but are they removing PPE when you leave or doing things the way they want as soon as you turn your back? The question becomes; how can we swing the pendulum in the other direction?

Develop a Culture of Safety Management

Making the change from compliance to culture is easier than we may think. There are a few key differences in the message and methodology. First, we must inform our workforce of the “why” behind our safety directives and we have to believe in that “why.” 

I am a firm believer that safety culture starts at the very top and filters down. If your message is clear and, more importantly, from the heart, that culture can spread like  wildfire throughout the ranks of your organization. We have to let our workforce know that we instill the safety policies that we do because we truly care about their health and well-being. We are dedicated to creating a safe environment so that they can go home in the same health in which they arrived. 

When I speak about this with clients, I often hear the same thing. “That’s what we tell them all the time, but they continue to work with the same bad habits/behaviors.” My question to them, and to you if you find yourself saying the same thing, is how are you engaging your employees in the safety conversation? 

Engage Employees Throughout Safety Development

We need to approach safety as a coach rather than a boss. Include the employee in the conversation, ask them how we can do things safer, and have them collaborate and be a part of the process. Try having model employees run training sessions and have others sit in on safety initiative meetings. 

When was the last time we pointed out someone’s good behavior? Are we reactively disciplining bad behavior or proactively rewarding good behavior? Going back to the coaching analogy, when a kid comes off the basketball court after diving on the floor for a loose ball and creating a turnover, does the coach yell at them? Does he ignore them? No, they are often rewarded with a pat on the back and a “great job!” or “good hustle!” Is that kid more likely to show that same work-ethic and hustle when he goes back in? Are other kids on the bench going to display similar behaviors when they have the opportunity? Most likely they will. 

Whether we admit it or not, we all want and need that pat on the back, and we are all driven by being noticed or rewarded for our efforts. Engaging the employee in the development process is beneficial in more ways than one. It shows employees that you trust and value their opinions and input, which will lead to an increased sense of ownership and emotional investment in the company. This allows you to see your processes and organizations from a different perspective and provide valuable feedback on how things are operating. All of which are good things and will only lead to increased productivity, morale, and profitability.

If you have any questions, concerns or would like to discuss how to implement these changes in your workplace, contact GMS to learn more about developing a culture of safety through employee engagement and risk management services. Safety starts and ends with you. The culture is yours to create. Develop it. Own it. Exemplify it.

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