You hear the terms "responsibility" and "accountability" a lot when dealing with safety and health, and sometimes people use the terms as though they have the same meaning. The question to ask is, "are you responsible and accountable for your safety performance?" So, let's take a look at both concepts to help answer that important question.
Being "responsible" implies that you have been assigned a position or have a duty to perform. One important employee responsibility is to work safely. Think of "responsibility" is an assignment.
Being "accountable" exists when you are subject to consequences based on your safety performance. Accountability is a condition that exists when outcomes your employer administers depend on your safety performance.
In other words, when you are held accountable, your safety performance is measured against company performance standards and expectations, and based on your performance, consequences are administered. As you'll see, those consequences are perceived as positive or negative.
For example, an employer is held accountable by OSHA standards that detail specific performance requirements. Since accountability requires a consequence, one of two outcomes must occur:
In either case, OSHA administers consequences - the leave or they penalize. Just remember, effective accountability for safety exists only when employee performance results in appropriate consequences: This is the fundamental principle of an successful accountability system.
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Accountability is one of the most important elements within the safety management system (SMS) because if you don't have it, it's impossible for the safety management system to function effectively. Although the intended purpose of the SMS is always to prevent accidents and save money, the SMS may actually unintentionally function to do just the opposite. In this section, we're going to discuss the six important elements within a Safety Accountability Program that help the employer achieve the purpose of an effective SMS. Those six elements are:
You can use the guidelines in the six elements of an accountability system to help design, develop, and deploy an effective accountability system.
With that in mind, let's take a look at an example of how each of the six elements can be evaluated to determine if the accountability program is effective.
Given the criteria for effective accountability above, read the following scenario to determine if discipline is appropriate.
If you think Gloria was justified in disciplining Joe, please read the partial findings in the next section very carefully. Unfortunately discipline like this is commonly administered subjectively, blaming the employee, not the safety management system.
Let's take a look at a few of the possible accountability system failures in the previous scenario that supports the position that discipline was not justified nor appropriate:
These were not all of the system failures: just a few examples. Given more background information and analysis, other important system failures would also be discovered throughout various levels of staff and line management. These and other failures support the position that employee discipline was not justified in this scenario. Remember, if the system has somehow failed the employee, discipline is NOT justified. In fact, the appropriate response, one that demonstrates real leadership, is to apologize to the employee and make a commitment to fix the system.
OSHA has developed rules in occupational safety and health that are standards of performance for employers. Employers are required to, likewise, establish their own standards that includes safety programs, plans, policies, processes, procedures, practices, job descriptions, and rules. Employers must clearly convey these safety standards of performance to employees by doing the following:
If standards of acceptable behavior and performance are not established and clearly communicated to employees, an effective accountability system is impossible. Management may not be justified in administering discipline without clearly written and communicated standards.
Before employers are justified in administering appropriate consequences, they should first provide their employees with the means and methods to achieve the standards of performance that have been established. Employers should provide a safe and healthful physical workplace and supportive psychosocial workplace environment.
Physical resources: Helps to ensure safe and healthful conditions and exposures. Examples include safe tools, equipment, machinery, materials, workstations, facilities, and environment. State and Federal OSHA agencies emphasize this category.
Psychosocial support: The prevention of psychosocial stress is closely linked to the promotion of a healthy work environment. Stress normally refers to feelings of strain, tenseness, nervousness and reduced feelings of control. Stress takes our mind off of the work we're doing and increases the chance of being injured or ill.
Examples of psychosocial factors that increase stress include job dissatisfaction, monotonous work, pressure to work fast, limited job control, and lack of positive consequences.
Examples of ways to support the psychosocial environment that reduce stress include:
Once again, when applied to safety behavior and performance, being held accountable demands more than simply being answerable. In an effective accountability system the quality or level of safety performance is measured regularly and often. Measurement processes include informal/formal observations. However, effective measurement means more than merely observing behaviors. It also includes quantifying behaviors and activities and then adding up the numbers. Those numbers, called Key Performance Indicators, form the statistics that you can use to improve the safety management system.
Examples of measured safety behaviors and performance at various levels include:
Top/mid-level managers: Unfortunately, measurement at this level typically includes lagging indicators or results statistics over which top managers actually have little direct control. It's hard to control something, like an accident, that has already occurred. These measures include:
This situation may cause top managers to put pressure on supervisors to hold down the number of accidents in their departments. Consequently, the result may be ineffective measurement at all levels. Leading indicators measure performance that occurs before an accident. They are more proactive and beneficial because they help to prevent future accidents. Appropriate leading indicator behaviors and activities to measure at top/mid- level management include:
Supervisors: Supervisors may not be able to completely control the results (such as the accident rate) of their work area. However, they do have the ability to control their own safety management and leadership activities. Therefore, to hold supervisors accountable, performance measurement at this level should primarily include proactive supervisor safety behaviors and activities such as:
Employees: Measurement of employees should include appropriate proactive personal behaviors such as:
After all is said and done, if the behaviors and activities above are expected and recognized, the results that we all worry about will take care of themselves. Improve the process and watch the outcome follow!
A basic rule for developing accountability criteria for measurement is that an employee should be held accountable for a responsibility only if they have been given adequate:
If managers and employees are being measured and held accountable for results over which they have no control, they will attempt to somehow gain control over the results. The attempt to establish control may include inappropriate strategies.
For example, a supervisor who's measured only on department accident rates may threaten to fire anyone who completes an OSHA 301, Incident Report. Not only is that behavior counterproductive for the company, it is illegal!
OSHA assumes the employer ultimately controls all of the many operational variables such as raw materials, equipment, machinery, work schedules, personnel, and policies that make up the day-to-day work environment. Therefore, employer performance in providing resources and implementing policies, etc., should be measured.
On the other hand, employees may have very little control over operations in the workplace. However, they do have control over their own behavior: Employees have the ability to choose to work safe or to take chances.
In the workplace, managers should measure supervisor activities and behaviors, and it's important that supervisors measure their employees' safety behaviors. Employees can choose to comply with safety rules, and they may choose to report injuries and hazards in the workplace. Consequently, we need to measure these personal behaviors.
OSHA doesn't merely observe, they inspect, investigate, and issue citations that may include monetary penalties: Now that's measurement with consequences, isn't it?
OK, we've looked at Elements 1-3 of the accountability program. Now let's head over to Module 2 to check out Elements 4-6.
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Regardless of your operations and organization, accountability is what makes your safety system work. Dan Peterson tells how holding people accountable — top to bottom — eliminates accidents and injuries more than any other single approach. Learn more about Caterpillar's safety culture products.