Culture or Compliance?

Culture or Compliance?

Workplace safety is about many things. The organizational or safety culture is one very important component of effective safety management. There are those that focus on human behavior, while others focus on safety management systems or employee training, and others still that concentrate on ensuring compliance with the multitude of OSHA, EPA, and other safety and environmental regulations.

So which approach is right? There is plenty of research, both old and new, that indicates human behavior is a complex issue and that it does have an effect on safety in the workplace[1].  We also know that safety management systems, properly designed and implemented, can have a positive impact on both injury and cost reduction[2]. Even employee education and training leads to workers being more skilled at their jobs and to better understand how to do those jobs in a safe manner[3]. And then there are the myriad of regulations with which employers must comply. There is even evidence to show that complying with these regulations will improve safety in the workplace[4].

If all of these means have been shown to improve safety, then why would we put all of our resources into just one or two of these methods of reducing injuries in the workplace? Perhaps we shouldn’t.

There are well-known safety professionals in our business that focus on one particular aspect of workplace safety. Is that wrong? I don’t believe so. Each works from their strengths and that benefits all of us. There are people like Shawn Galloway and Terry Mathis of ProAct Safety. They focus on how human behavior impacts safety. They’re very good at it, and I for one have learned a great deal from them. And there are people like Phil LaDuke: well, actually there is probably no one else like Phil…he’s one of a kind. I say that in a positive way. Phil writes things that many safety professionals might not want to hear or think about. Personally, I read Phil’s work because it challenges me to carefully consider why I believe what I do.  Now in these two examples, the people mentioned might have positions which appear to be diametrically opposed, but they both contribute to the safety profession and to helping others improve safety in the workplace.

So what I am trying to say is that one approach is not necessarily the best thing to ensure a safe workplace. The various safety professionals that share their expertise with us are all correct in taking the position that their approach is one that works. It takes an understanding of human behavior, it takes a good safety management system that includes hazard identification and mitigation, it requires effective training, education, and communication about safety, and it requires compliance with the regulations from OSHA, EPA, and other agencies.


[1] E. Scott Geller, Behavior Modification, Vol. 29 No. 3, May 2005.

[2]John Palassis, Education and Information Division, NIOSH, CDC, Presented at 2007 AIHCE Philadelphia, PA, June 6, 2007.

[3] Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines, OSHA 2254 1998 (Revised).



Filed under Culture

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