Dealing With the Chronic Safety Offender

As an employer you are trying everything you can to make your business successful and profitable – and that includes creating a safe environment for your employees to work in. 

But what do you do with an employee who doesn’t seem to respect the boundaries of safety you’ve established?

The most obvious answer is to fire him/her, but not so fast… Take the time to look for the whole story behind the offender before you resort to walking papers. You might even end up improving your policies and procedures because of one rule-breaker!

Here are a few questions to ask yourself after a safety offender is busted:

Are the safety procedures clearly defined? 

Safety policies may be obvious to management, but they’re not always as clear to the average employee. The breakdown usually comes because of a lack of communication. Having a safety policy in a binder tucked away in someone’s desk is probably not going to help anyone; you need to disseminate that information via posters, banners, meetings, memos – in clear, plain language that everyone can follow.

Is this person a repeat safety offender, or was it a one-time mistake?

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, responsible people can make irresponsible decisions. If the safety offence seems out of character for the employee, find out what circumstances occurred before the misstep; examine all mitigating circumstances. If this was not a repeat offence, a probationary period might be in order to send a strong message to your whole workforce about the importance of compliance with health and safety policies and procedures.

Does the person understand the seriousness of his/her offense?

In some cases, employees see safety policies as mere bureaucracy. People, especially youth, have a tendency to think of themselves as indestructible, so cutting corners on safety is seen as an acceptable risk. As an employer, you can help young employees by emphasizing the human side of workplace safety – particularly critical during the first few days of employment.

  •  During orientation and training, show videos that depict workplace tragedies. Videos and photos help employees see the devastating reality of workplace accidents, and can bring home the message that your company is serious about this issue.

Is there positive pressure in your company to follow safety protocols and procedures?

Creating a culture of safety is the best way to keep all employees following the rules. However, sometimes an employee’s lackadaisical attitude towards safety standards can be a warning sign of bigger problems within the organization.  Defining what your safety culture should look like – and comparing that to your company’s day-to-day reality – may shed some light on what’s missing.

Have the consequences for not following safety procedures been clearly outlined?

During orientation and training, you should outline to new hires what exactly happens when safety procedures are not followed. Although staying safe should be enough incentive by itself, people often need external pressure, or some kind of punitive measure to keep on the right path. (Speeding tickets… need we say more?)

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