Safety from a Former Compliance Officer’s Perspective

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What is your company’s perception of safety and health in the workplace?  Having worked as an OSHA Safety Compliance Officer for more than seven years, I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness many devastating workplace accidents.  A workplace fatality or accident not only affects a company and its employees but also many individuals (family and friends) connected to the person involved in the accident.  During my career, I conducted numerous investigations of workplace accidents, all of which could have been prevented.  As a result of this experience, I have learned that there are three common areas that lead to an unsuccessful safety and health program:  a lack of support from upper management, inadequate technical and practical knowledge to develop and maintain a successful safety and health program, and the absence of a concerted effort to meet the unique challenges of safety and health management.

All too often as a compliance officer I conducted investigations where those who were in charge of safety did not receive the necessary support from upper management.  Safety hazards were either overlooked or ignored while production was the primary focus of management.  Many times violations were overlooked because the funding that should have been spent on protecting the company’s greatest asset, its employees, was utilized for other purposes.  Without the support of upper management, no safety and health program can succeed.  This requires a top-down approach where upper management is active and engaged in the safety and health management system. 

Another major factor in a failing safety and health program is lack of knowledge on the part of those persons responsible for managing the program.  Many times individuals are thrust into the role of managing a safety and health program without the proper knowledge and/or background.  I have personally witnessed maintenance managers, human resource professionals, and recent college graduates–all with little or no safety experience–assigned the responsibility of managing a company’s safety and health program.  Individuals who have a limited knowledge of state and federal regulations are tasked with attempting to acquire an immense amount of knowledge in a relatively short period of time.  Undeniably, it takes years of learning through education and hands-on experience to gain the necessary knowledge to properly manage a safety and health program.  Many of the individuals who manage failing safety and health programs simply do not have the knowledge necessary to fulfill their job duties successfully.

The final and possibly most critical element contributing to a failing safety and health program is the level of effort put forth by those involved.  Developing, implementing, and maintaining a safety and health program is not an easy task.  It is hard work and requires a lot of time and dedication.  A sign of certain failure in a safety and health system is a management team that doesn’t provide a maximum level of effort.

The next time you walk around your facility or jobsite, think about your greatest asset (employees) and put them first.  Support your safety and health program, take time to acquire the necessary knowledge, and provide the maximum effort required to efficiently maintain a successful program.  At the end of the day, what does safety mean to you and what will be your perspective?