Corrective Actions: Strengthening Safety by Addressing At-Risk Behavior
- Christopher A. Goulart (Aon)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- December 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 48 - 52
- 2016. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 1 in the last 30 days
- 52 since 2007
- Show more detail
- To optimize performance and promote a culture of safety excellence, safety professionals must provide feedback, assign accountability, discipline, coach or punish employees.
- Application of these approaches must be considered carefully; each has potential perils and benefits to both the organization and its employees.
- By understanding the available options, as well as when they should be used and their implications, safety professionals will be better equipped to determine the best course of action for addressing at-risk behavior and promoting a culture of safety excellence across their organizations.
Decisions about whether to punish, discipline, hold accountable, coach or give feedback have stymied managers, leaders and safety professionals for decades. The challenge is providing appropriate and meaningful consequences while being fair and ensuring that the interactions generate the most desirable outcomes for both the employee and the organization.
Using punishment and blame for mistakes and errors at the expense of coaching and feedback can create many problems for an organization ranging from loss of morale to employee hostility toward management and reluctance to abide by safe work procedures.
Further, organizations that dole out punishment indiscriminately undermine their integrity. This consequence can result when employers punish workers for actions that are not their fault or for issues arising from conditions beyond their control. Thus, taking precautions to avoid any misapplication of punishment or blame should be a cultural norm for all employers.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide appropriate and meaningful consequences while being fair and ensuring that interactions generate the most desirable outcomes for both the employee and the organization.
Proximal vs. Absolute Safety Goals
Proximal goals of providing negative consequences are to correct error, change behavior or to avoid employees violating acceptable practices. However, the absolute goal is to help create an organization in which performance is optimized, risk is reduced, and injuries and incidents are less likely to occur.
The two goals are not always aligned, and conflicts arise when objectives are compromised by actions to attain the proximal goal. Thus, if individuals are held accountable or punished for actions in situations where a learning opportunity would otherwise exist, they will not change their behavior other than to avoid the activity for which they were penalized. This will also undermine the absolute goal by reducing employee participation in organizational safety processes, including efforts to identify the true sources of at-risk acts and evaluate systemic causes of risk.
To improve safety and reduce risk, organizations should note that each action that has negative consequences (punishment, discipline, accountability, blame, feedback and coaching) can be used beneficially. However, each must be used in the right way at the right time.
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