Are We Bought In Yet?

Honesty, integrity, and reputation are all keys to a simple and single message of safety excellence.

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 offered:

  • 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 answers.

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 get there?

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
    9. Accountability
    10. Evaluation
    11. Celebration
    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 it.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Michael W. Hayslip, Esq, P.E., CSP, is Executive Director of the Voluntary Protection Program Association for Construction, which is based in Dayton, Ohio.

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