Safety Culture Excellence®

Safety Culture Excellence® header image 1

The Danger of Compliance

November 6th, 2013

The goal of many safety programs is to get all workers and the workplace into compliance with applicable rules and regulations.  This is a necessary and foundational step in any effective safety effort.  However, if the goals and progression stop at compliance, this can cause crucial problems for the future.  Once the workplace passes muster and workers know and adhere to the rules, then what?  The next steps in safety must take the organization beyond the performance levels achieved through compliance.  These steps require much more of workers than simply following the rules.

Beyond compliance is excellence through safety culture.  An excellent safety culture is one in which workers are engaged, not simply conforming.  Worker engagement in safety is seldom accomplished with the tools of compliance.  A new set of tools that challenges workers to belong, participate, and expend creative energy is needed.  The tools of compliance cannot be used or even adapted to meet these challenges.  In fact, the tools used by many organizations to accomplish compliance can actually hamper or kill employee engagement.  A work force can be policed into compliance but must be coached into excellence.

Failure to change from safety cops to safety coaches can stop the progression of safety performance in its tracks.  Workers will develop a “good enough” attitude toward safety if there is no reason to go above and beyond.  They will not buy in if there is no compelling rationale.  They will not feel part of the effort if there are no involvement opportunities.  They will never own the safety-excellence effort if they are not allowed to help create it.  Recognizing the point at which compliance needs to give way to excellence is the key to continuous improvement in safety.

-Terry L. Mathis

Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership, and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at ASSE, NSC, and numerous company and industry conferences. EHS Today listed Terry as a Safety Guru in ‘The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2010, 2011 and 2012-2013. He has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for over 15 years and is the coauthor of STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence, 2013, WILEY.