Safety or Compliance, If You Have To Choose

Safety or Compliance, If You Have To Choose is an article that reflects on choosing safety first, to keep people safe.

An article I read recently in an e-zine called SafetyXChange talked about a safety consultant who was on a work site performing a safety audit. The consultant asked the Safety Director (or some such title) if he was aware of a particular hazard that was uncovered during a recent inspection to which he answered, yes. When asked by the consultant if he knew why nothing had been done to eliminate or control the hazard he answered, “Because I’ve been too busy getting ready for this safety audit.”

As ironic as it may seem, situations such as this are frighteningly common in many workplaces; the safety staff is so focused on documentation, record keeping and general regulatory compliance that they lose sight of the real goal – protecting people from injury – or worse.

I don’t think that anyone involved with safety management would argue that compliance is an important and worthwhile pursuit, but I would hope that those same safety oriented individuals would consider it secondary to preventing the exposure of people to the risk of injury.

Often times while delivering forklift operator or instructor training the topic of regulatory compliance comes up, in fact, it always does. After all, operators, employers, supervisors and the like are subject to many regulations that define their rights and responsibilities, so they should be aware of them. However, where do we draw the line in the training arena and turn our attention away from the written mandate of the law and toward more “real world” issues, such as operating forklifts safely?

What usually works for me is re-directing the discussion away from specific regulatory wording toward more “general duty” wording. Here in North America, every regulatory jurisdiction contains wording that more or less states that employers must do everything reasonably within their power to identify hazards and eliminate/manage risk of injury on an ongoing basis. In short, employers must constantly allocate resources to identify hazards and do something about it/them once they are identified. What more do you need to know? I often tell trainees that regardless of what the regulations say or do not say, whatever it is you are doing, you must do it as safely as possible. General duty, due diligence, operating in good faith, whatever it may be called – in the event of an injury or damage producing incident if it can be determined that everything that could have been done to avoid the incident was actually done, chances are that most regulatory/legal representatives will view this as responsible behavior and thus may be inclined to soften or even eliminate any citations contemplated.

To use a more common analogy, if you get pulled over for speeding in your car, the cops will not ask if you have read and understood the Motor Vehicle Act, they are going to ask if read and understood the posted speed limit. Regulations are like road signs, little bits of information to keep you within the act. You don’t need to know the entire act but you better know what the signs mean and once you do you can get back to the real important stuff – hands on training anybody?

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletter to receive more like this!