With continued emphasis on safety, many companies have developed a knee jerk response to the subject, that is, they are squarely in favor of safety programs, but seldom take the time to determine if currently held beliefs are actually true. This attitude results in a knowledge deficit that can cause a company to foster an unsafe working environment for its employees.
Let's expose some of these myths and replace them with facts:
- Safety programs eliminate all risk - Safety is usually defined as the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk. Risk can never be completely eliminated because as work conditions change, new risks can develop from those changes.
- Safety is a series of actions - Safety is the result of workers' actions, not the actions themselves. Safety is the outcome you can expect if tasks are done properly and there are no unforeseen events. Accidents happen because certain unexpected events prevent a task from being completed as intended.
- Safety is an entity unto itself - When safety is departmentalized, employees transfer responsibility for safety to others. Safety is seen as someone else's job. Employees need to be trained that safety is part of the corporate culture, which makes it everyone's responsibility. The department is only there to expedite the flow of information among all segments of the workforce.
- Safety is guaranteed if you follow OSHA standards - Even OSHA is wise enough to realize that no collection of rules can cover every possible hazard. That's why the agency developed the "General Duty" clause that says if recognizable hazards develop for which there are no rules, you are obliged to fix the problem as though a rule existed.
- Safety practices translate into a less competitive bid - Contractors who incorporate safety procedures into their operations have the best shot at long-term success because of numerous cost advantages, such as lower overhead and cheaper insurance rates.
- Safety programs can solve all problems - Safety is an outcome that results from having a delivery process, and managing the effort required to produce the desired outcome. The process is the incorporation of best safety practices in all aspects of the operation. Only the management function is the responsibility of the safety department.
- Safety is achieved by adding more audits and site inspections - Auditing and inspections reveal what problems are occurring on the construction site and where they are happening. Neither action changes the reasons these problems exist. Audits and site inspections are only valuable if the information they generate is acted upon.
- Safety practices are reinforced by incentive programs - Incentive programs can affect positive changes in behavior over the short-term. If left in place over a prolonged period, the level of awards has to be increased to maintain the same effect. To achieve lasting behavioral change, employees need to know that management supports safety practices and has zero tolerance for their violation.
- Safety compliance is achieved through disciplinary programs - If punishment for violating a safety procedure is not administered immediately following the negative behavior, the connection between behavior and punishment is lost and the punishment becomes a drain on morale. Even if administered correctly, discipline is only one tool for accomplishing compliance. Selection, hiring, training, and compensation programs play as crucial a role in promoting desired behavior as discipline does.
- Safety can be achieved through technology - Problems will not disappear with the introduction of a new technology if the underlying social system that produces those problems remains unchanged. If your firm pays lip service to following safety procedures, but violates those procedures in the name of productivity, no technology can help regardless of how often you track incidents. Eliminate the mixed messages and you can begin to develop a corporate culture of safety.