Are We Bought In Yet?
Honesty, integrity, and reputation are all keys to a simple and single message of safety excellence.
- By Michael W. Hayslip
- Jan 01, 2010
Buy-in. It is a critical element to a valued safety
and health process. The problem is, no one
seems to be able to agree on how best to get
there from here. In the context of collectively
buying in and moving forward as safety professionals,
organization managers, and governmental officials to
promote the greater good of excellence in safety and
health processes, these three "buy in" questions are first
- The chicken or the egg?
- Nurture or nature?
- The carrot or the stick?
These three seminal questions of buy-in — being
which came first, what is more important, and how to
best motivate for a desired performance — may forever
be in tension with one another. This tension is based as
much on the differing viewpoints of the entity responding
as on the reality of the correct answer. Yet the heart
of reaching excellence in our collective culture of safety
and health will turn on agreement to truthful and unbiased
This commentary calls out for improvements to our
current state of safety and health processes as infl uenced
upon by individuals, organizations, and governmental
bodies. It is twofold. This is not intended to fully answer
what are the best means and methods or should
be first, but, rather, to address the much-needed balance
between these fundamental issues and, second, to focus
and foster a frank and open debate on promoting our
safety and health culture in the United States.
Prior to 1970 and before the introduction of OSHA,
the culture of safety and health in the United States was
wholly inadequate. Now, 10 years into the 21st Century,
we still struggle as an industry with unacceptable numbers
in terms of occupational incidents and injuries. The
current downward trend of year-over-year injuries and
fatalities is encouraging. However, potentially burdensome
governmental regulation and hard-line agency
enforcement are on the rise. When and how will "we"
simply get it right, and who will find the best means to
When the day comes (as I know it will) that no person
or property is found suffering from an occupational
injury or mishap, that is the day we have succeeded as a
community in getting it right.
I speak from the position of a Certified Safety Professional,
attorney, and professional civil engineer but,
importantly, as a carpenter. There are few things I am
as confident in as my boots-on-the-ground education
from the school of hard knocks. Any entry-level carpenter
with a pry bar can tell you it is much easier to demolish
work than to organize and build work. Likewise,
with respect to building trust and working together to
achieve buy-in, there is value in modernizing our systems,
along with the means and methods we use, in lieu
of tearing down what we have currently built.
Ultimately, as a corporate safety and risk director, I
learned the same basic lessons learned along with my
carpenter brothers and sisters: that it is easier to tear
down something rather than to build upon it. Safety excellence
is that simple but not so easy to achieve, given
that reasonable people with the same set of facts can often
come to differing conclusions.
During 25+ years in the construction industry, I
have found the following 12 phases to be of most value
to me in creating, maintaining, and improving an excellent
safety and health process. They are offered here as a
suggestive means on how to get there for an individual:
1. Development of trust and mutual respect
2. Communication of concepts in simplest terms
3. Creating a need
4. Filling that need
5. Motivating toward action
6. Resourcing the ability to act
7. Timely service to the actor
8. Timely action
12. Continuous improvement
The tension for resources between increased enforcement
actions versus the value of Voluntary Protection
Programs may always be at odds. One only can
hope for a balance between firm and fair enforcement
from governmental bodies, coupled with the humility
and courage of organizations to do what is right voluntarily
with the assistance of safety-minded individuals.
The means to an end of excellence in safety and
health processes need not be found in what is best, nor
first, nor in whose viewpoint of what is proper. Let the
debate focus on the willingness and ability of those on
the ground in a position to make a difference, under the
umbrella of humility shown by an organization, coupled
with the grace of the governmental body that regulates
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Michael W. Hayslip, Esq, P.E., CSP, is Executive Director
of the Voluntary Protection Program Association for Construction,
which is based in Dayton,