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There are two main approaches to occupational health and safety (OH&S). One is a reactive approach based on legislation and the threat of legal action including fines and business restrictions.
The second is a more proactive and self-reliant approach based on the principle that it is in the best interest of the business to have the safest workplace possible. The latter describes when a business takes an active stake in the health and well-being of its workers through various OH&S initiatives in order to positively impact the health of workers and the bottom line.
The main advantage of the reactive approach is in punishing those that have violated OH&S standards and thereby providing a deterrent to others. However, these punishments or the implementation of new safety standards will often only be enacted after a significant OH&S violation or workplace incident has occurred. This approach does not help prevent these initial incidents, which may have left several people wounded or dead, from happening and therefore, significant harm is often done before any punishment is received by the party responsible.
Significant changes in operating policy or rules can also take a lot of time to become an industry standard or be enacted into law. During this time many more similar incidents are likely to occur. Moreover, constant regular inspections of every workplace in every industry is seen as logistically unrealistic and very costly especially since, in many industries, regulation is provided solely by the government and thus can be an expensive expenditure of public funds that may also change given a particular political climate.
The second approach is one that preaches employer self-reliance. However, many employers and employees are not fully aware of all the dangers or necessary precautions that they need to take in their workplace. Furthermore, in an attempt to lower operating costs and increase the bottom line, a system in which employers were completely self-reliant would result in the devaluation of safety in the workplace and therefore, the devaluation of the employee.
In this setting proper safety mechanisms would simply be seen as an unnecessary expense. Therefore, in a system where an employer’s OH&S operations are mutually exclusive from the government, many workplaces would continue to engage in dangerous practices that could jeopardize the health and well-being of not just those in the workplace but of the general public as well.
The main advantage of this perspective is that it uses significantly less public money since business becomes deregulated. Additionally, changes in health policy within an organization by an employer can be implemented immediately and made to meet the individual needs of the organization. However, despite these positives, a completely self-reliant system in a capitalist society is intrinsically flawed, as outlined above.
Thus, each approach has its advantages and disadvantages culminating in no single ‘best practice.’ Ultimately a balance must be struck between the two approaches to ensure that those who violate OH&S standards and those who are responsible for compromising the health and safety of even a single individual or the public at large are punished for their actions. However, this must also be undertaken by promoting an approach that encourages employers to take ownership of the OH&S process, including the promotion of preventive measures that minimizes the possibility of OH&S incidents from occurring.
Behaviour as a Preventive Measure
Focusing on behaviours rather than specific safety incidents is a better approach to occupational health and safety because it is a preventive strategy rather than a reactive strategy. Hazardous behaviour is at the root of all possible incidents and so, with a focus on safety behaviours in the workplace, policies can be put into place that prevent incidents from occurring. Information campaigns, risk awareness, skills training, and behaviour modification techniques are all behavioural interventions that can aid in reducing the number of safety incidents in the workplace by changing the behaviour of employees to be focused on safety first.
These programs help to build an organization’s safety climate. A better safety climate will lead to greater individual safety compliance as well as a greater number of safety initiatives in the workplace, thereby reducing the number of potential hazards in the workplace. The greater the safety compliance, the less hazardous behaviour there will be in the workplace and the greater the possibility of overall workplace safety and fewer safety incidents.
This leads to a happy, healthier workplace that positively influences employee well-being and morale and, by association, positively influences an employer’s bottom line.
About Today’s HR Daily Advisor Blogger:
Anthony Di Bratto is an HR consultant based out of Toronto, Canada. A believer in human resources as a lifelong learning pursuit Mr. Di Bratto enjoys playing various sports while also trying to give back to his local community.