Industry, business, and government workplace safety programs are based on one of three principles: regulatory compliance, monetary savings, or ethics. Those whose programs are based on regulatory compliance are concerned with avoiding fines and citations, and base their safety decisions solely upon existing safety regulations. Those whose programs are based on monetary savings are primarily concerned with reducing their cost from employee injury, illness, and death. Those whose programs are based on ethics are concerned with doing whatever is necessary to provide a safe workplace and desire to protect their employees from injury and death because they don't want them and their families to suffer.
OSHAC champions the provision of workplace safety as an ethical concern in its operations and production of safety training and certification courses. The three key components of the OSHAC Safety Principles are explained below.
Many employers feel that regulatory compliance and workplace safety is the same thing. An army of "safety consultants" market their services by encouraging employers to fear regulators, which only exacerbates the problem. Most of the world's workplace safety regulatory agencies make it clear that their regulations are only minimum requirements. In most cases, OSHAC turns out to be a toothless tiger, willing to change "willful" citations to "unspecified" citations so employers can avoid criminal charges and because of the fear of civil liability. Willful violations that result in the death of an employee may be reduced to "undetermined."
Violating a legal regulation and violating moral or ethical principles are not the same thing. In fact, reducing ethics to little more than compliance may lead to more non-compliance than if ethics were the guiding light for workplace safety. "Compliance" means not transgressing the limits defined by law. Business and society need regulations and laws along with enforcement. Compliance is a good thing, but compliance is not ethics and compliance does not guarantee a safe workplace.
An exclusive focus on laws and regulations restricts our attention to the edges of the playing field. Cross this line and you are busted. But if you play the game by always working as close to the edges as possible, you are likely to stumble or sneak across the forbidden limit. Ethical principles of workplace safety sometimes do spell out "law-like" boundary conditions through written policies and procedures, but these are based not on what is legal, but on what are right. Ethical boundaries are usually drawn well back from those legal edges we might otherwise trespass.
The ethics question is "what right, good is, and moral?" and that usually exceeds minimum regulatory requirements. A true facility safety culture cannot be established on a foundation of regulatory compliance alone.
One safety manager who advocates using monetary savings as a foundation for workplace safety programs writes: "We were not hired because our companies were altruistic about providing an environment where employees did not get hurt. We were not hired because our companies were enamored with safety. However, we were hired because it makes good business sense. We were hired to reduce the costs of workers' compensation, the medical costs resulting from injuries, and the costs of potential OSHA citations."
Many employers do genuinely care about the safety of their employees and see workplace safety as an ethical responsibility not a cash center. The cost of injuries is a viable consideration and an excellent tool for a safety manager to use in justifying expenditures for workplace safety. But a safety program based solely upon saving the employer money is sorely misguided. The writer of the above needs to accept his/her responsibility to educate their employer to the fact that safety is much more than just money. It is an ethical responsibility. A true safety culture cannot be established in your facility on a foundation of saving money alone.
At its core, ethics holds up a positive vision of what is right and what is good. It defines what is worth pursuing as a kind of guiding star for our decisions and actions. Organizations that base their workplace safety on ethics will spend their energy articulating and pursuing positive principles, values, and virtues. Observing regulatory boundaries and reducing expenses from injuries are important, but they are secondary to the pursuit of the right and good.
Behavior modification is defined as many different things, depending upon who is defining it. From the standpoint of the creation of a comprehensive safety culture within an organization, behavior modification means changing the manner in which the human element of our organization works. This is accomplished largely through effective training, but also requires administrative controls. Effective behavior modification within a comprehensive safety culture must apply not just to laborers and operators, but to all human links in the chain that is the "system."
A key step to implementing a comprehensive safety program is to gain complete acceptance by employees. This means that not only everyone on the job must accept the changes; they must truly embrace them for the changes to take place. The best way to achieve that kind of commitment is to make the changes a part of your corporate culture. Most everyone would agree that no program is more important to make a part of your culture than a safety program.