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Safety Responsibility and Accountability: What's the difference?

Have you ever worked for someone who had responsibility or authority, yet was not held accountable by the employer? Confusion about the meaning of these important concepts appears to be wide-spread throughout the public and private sectors, and there is good reason for the confusion. According to Webster, responsible is defined as "being obliged to account [for]," while accountable is defined as being "responsible."

Let's clear up the confusion

Being assigned responsibility for Responsibility by the employer, your performance is not necessarily measured. But when you are held accountable, your performance is:

  1. evaluated in relation to formal standards or expectations, and
  2. results in the application of positive or negative consequences.

An owner or top manager of a business delegates certain responsibilities to other worksite managers or supervisors. The owner must avoid undercutting the authority of the managers, since that will interfere with their ability to carry out those responsibilities. At the same time, the owner wants to demonstrate their own commitment to reducing safety and health hazards and protecting employees. How can this be done?

Elements of an effective accountability system

The condition of accountability in the workplace doesn't just happen. To be effective, accountability requires careful design and performance of an supportive accountability system. An effective accountability system should have the following elements to be effective:

  1. Established standards in the form of company policies, procedures or rules that clearly convey standards of performance in safety and health to employees. It's important that employees understand safety policies and rules, and why they are important. They need to understand the natural and system consequences of their personal behavior.
    • Natural consequences refer to the hurt or health the employee will experience as a direct result of their behavior. Examples include injury, illness, and health.
    • System consequences refer to the negative or positive consequences administered by the organization as a result of their personal behavior. Examples include discipline or positive recognition.
  2. Resources and support. To be justified, the employer must provide the physical resources and psychosocial support to enable employees to achieve the standards set.
    • Physical resources include safe tools, equipment, material, facilities, environment.
    • Psychosocial support includes safe procedures, reasonable workload and scheduling, suitable employee relations and effective leadership.
  3. An evaluation/measurement system which specifies acceptable behavior. Examples of measured safety behavior at various levels include:
    • Top/Mid-level managers: Measurement at this level includes personal behavior, safety activities, and statistical results, such as following company safety and health rules, enforcing safety and health rules, arranging safety and health training and workers’ compensation costs.
    • Supervisors: Measurement should include personal safety behavior and safety activities which they are able to control, such as making sure employees have safe materials and equipment, following and enforcing safety rules, and conducting safety inspections and meetings.
    • Employees: Measurement usually includes personal behavior, such as complying with safety and health rules, and reporting injuries and hazards.
  4. Effective consequences, both positive and negative. Effective consequences will change behavior in the desired direction. The nature of, and significance of consequences is determined by the employee receiving the consequences. What works for one employee may not be effective for another.
    • Negative consequences include verbal warnings, written reprimands, suspension from work and termination.
    • Positive consequences include informal or personal recognition, raises, promotion and money.
  5. Appropriate application at all levels. An accountability plan must address all levels of management, not just line employees. Discipline is administered only if justified. Management should meet all obligations to employees to be justified. The safety management system should not have contributed to the noncompliance behavior. Positive and negative consequences should not be applied based on and employee's accident record (a result). If you don't have an accident , you'll get a bonus. Rather, consequences should result ONLY from an employee's compliance record (behavior).
  6. Effective program evaluation. As with any system, the design and performance of an accountability system should be evaluated on using a continuous improvement model. Safety committees or other staff may be an excellent forum for this activity.

When managers and employees are held accountable for their safety and health responsibilities, they are more likely to press for solutions to safety and health problems than to present barriers. By implementing an accountability system, positive involvement in the safety and health program is created.

Source: OSHAcademy

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).