In the world of workplace safety, the phrase “Workplace Safety and Accountability” stands out as a crucial factor in shaping a positive organizational culture. There are many intricacies of accountability and, when done correctly, it can contribute in fostering a safer and more productive work environment.

The Pitfalls of Being the Safety Police

The misconception of safety professionals being the “safety police” is a common challenge. While the responsibility to enforce safety measures exists, the lack of direct authority over employees poses a significant obstacle. Safety departments typically function as auxiliary units within an organization, advising managers and supervisors rather than exerting direct control.

The Authority Dilemma

The importance of authority in workplace safety and accountability cannot be ignored. In the hierarchical structure of a workplace, safety professionals often find themselves on the sidelines, providing recommendations without direct power. The chain of command, extending from frontline workers to CEOs, rarely includes safety personnel. This absence of authority diminishes the effectiveness of safety professionals acting as enforcers.

The Accountability Imperative

The core of workplace safety lies in accountability. Accountability is not solely about holding individuals responsible but ensuring they feel answerable and take ownership of safety-related tasks. Establishing a robust accountability system becomes pivotal in creating a workplace culture where adherence to safety protocols is ingrained in daily operations.

Five Steps to Effective Accountability

A five-step approach to accountability is outlined:

1. Commitment:

The commitment to safety policies and procedures begins at the executive level. The formation of an Executive Advisory Committee ensures buy-in from top management, fostering a culture where adherence to safety is non-negotiable.

2. Training and Understanding:

Ensuring that every employee is trained on safety protocols is crucial. However, true understanding requires assessments and observations to confirm that the workforce comprehends the nuances of safety guidelines.

3. Consequences:

Consequences for non-compliance should be clearly defined, ranging from coaching sessions to termination, depending on the severity of the violation. The person administering consequences must have direct authority over the individual in question.

4. Authority:

Authority plays a pivotal role in accountability. Consequences must be administered by someone within the employee’s chain of command to ensure the perceived fairness and effectiveness of the accountability system.

5. Consistency:

Consistency is the linchpin of an effective accountability system. Uniform application of consequences, irrespective of job titles or tenures, instills confidence in employees that everyone is held to the same standard.

Shaping a Culture of Safety

Workplace safety and accountability are interconnected elements that shape the culture of an organization. By understanding the nuances of accountability and implementing a comprehensive system, workplaces can move beyond the traditional notion of the safety police. Instead, they can cultivate a culture where every employee, from the frontline worker to the executive, is actively committed to creating a safer and more productive environment.

Take Action

By understanding the five key steps to accountability, you can initiate actionable changes, promoting consistency, positive reinforcement, and a collective responsibility for safety within the workplace. Embrace these steps to drive a cultural shift that will not only elevate safety practices but also empower your team toward lasting excellence.

How Workplace Safety and Accountability Shape a Positive Culture

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Who is the head officer of your safety police department? Now, you and I both know that it can't be safety. As much as our management teams expect it, we cannot be the safety police. We cannot wear that hat. You hear that all the time. Right? But somebody has to wear that hat. There has to be safety police at your work because without it, your culture suffers.

So today we're actually going to be talking about accountability and how having a strong safety accountability system will help create. A positive culture in your workplace. This sounds like so much fun. Let's get to it. Hey, there's safety friends. Welcome to The Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent, CSP and 20 year safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large

[00:01:00] corporation. And creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again. I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At the Safety Geek, you will learn how to manage an effective safety program that increases your management support and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career.

If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader, you're in the right place. Let's get to it. Let's talk about accountability. So first off, when I say we and cannot be the safety police and that you should know this, you might not know this, right? Like when I was first hired in safety, I was actually told to be the safety police.

They had a really nasty name for me. But I was told to go out there and hold people accountable. When I went to my second job in, in safety, I was told that it was my job

[00:02:00] to write everybody up for safety. Now I had to go out there and do the safety write ups. So you'd be in that same position. But there's a reason why we should not be the safety police and why we cannot hold people accountable.

And it comes down to authority. So, typically in a safety department, we are an auxiliary department within an organization. Think of us like H.R. or quality or finance, we don't have a direct impact on the employees. We are the side people that are giving advice to the managers and supervisors who manage and supervise the workers.

All right. So how can we be the ones that hold them accountable when we are not even in their chain of command, like, if you look at a worker's chain of command, it will typically go from the worker to the frontline supervisor, or maybe the worker to a team leader to the supervisor

[00:03:00] to the department manager to the director to the VP to the CEO. Right? We're nowhere in that line. So if we are nowhere in that line, we're just this person on the side going, hi, you should be doing this. So we're telling them to do something different, but we're not their boss. Now, I was in a unique situation for a long time where I actually had fire authority over employees.

Like, not all employees, but the safety sensitive ones, I could literally fire them. So even though I wasn't in that line of authority or that chain of command or that line of power, I did have some power over them because I could fire them and I had that right to do that. And that was a very unique position.

And it was kind of weird being that was one of my first positions in safety I was in, that I had that authority. Because I never saw it again and I was like, well, I need that authority, but now I know that's unusual. Most of the time, we're a little guide on the side. We're just going, hi,

[00:04:00] I'm safety, do it this way. But their supervisors over here saying, no, you have to do it this way. You have to make enough widgets and you have to do all this and and don't worry about that. We'll get to safety later. And then safety seen as a separate thing. So that's why we cannot be the safety police because we don't have authority over the workers.

Yeah, we might be able to write them up. Maybe you have that ability. Like, I was told to write them up and put things in their file. But it really didn't matter because the person that had power over them, their direct person was their frontline supervisor. I mean, their manager, directors, VPs, they had power as well.

I mean, granted, think about a VP goes out there and see somebody horse playing. He's going to say, you need to fire that guy. And he will, because they're in that line of power, they can, but typically the person that a worker is going to listen to the most is their direct supervisor. So if their direct supervisor is telling them to go left and you come along and you

[00:05:00] tell them to go right, who are they going to listen to? They're going to listen to their supervisor. So then you have to go to the supervisor and try to get the supervisor to say, no, tell them to go right. And the supervisor goes, yeah, okay. I'll tell them to go right. And then while you're there, he's telling them to go right. And then you walk away and he goes, okay, guys, let's go left again.

Right? That's what's happening. So we are actually judged by the actions of other people. This is one of my biggest problems within our profession is that we are judged by the actions of other people and we have no authority over those people. Where we should be judged just based on whether or not we can influence those people and whether or not we are being the guide on the side and all of that good stuff.

So, this is why safety cannot be accountable for safety results. So, accountability is one of these things that everybody talks about. And honestly, if you have

[00:06:00] accountability in your life, in your family, in your work, everywhere with yourself. You always achieve more. If you have like amazing self accountability, you will always go far.

It's one of the hardest things to actually have. It's easier to be accountable to somebody else than it is to be accountable to yourself. But if your work has like an amazing accountability system and they're actually holding everybody accountable, the place operates smoother. And it is because we are wired to follow rules like we need structure. Anybody who has had children understands that like children need structure. Children need routines, children need rules in order to learn and do what is right.

It is the same thing within the workplace. We need structure to our work in order to properly execute on that work and to do it safely and to build this culture of like, we can rely on our

[00:07:00] coworkers to be doing the right things. So if there is accountability within your workplace, it actually starts to shift your culture because that one worker can

know and understand that Worker 2 and Worker 3 and Worker 4, that they're all going to be doing what is right. And doing it the right way, accountability becomes how you do business. And what accountability is, is if you look up the definition, it means holding somebody to account, which I just think it's so funny.

Like, how can you define something by the word that it is? But whatever. But what accountability is, is somebody having responsibility or answerability or ownership to do something a certain way to complete a task to follow through whatever it is that you're holding them accountable for. What you want to understand is that sometime responsibility and accountability can be split up in an

[00:08:00] organization, especially when there is a line of power. So me as a safety director, I could be talking to the department manager and telling him he needs to order PPE and he is accountable for ordering that PPE. But the person responsible is the purchaser in his department. It's somebody lower. They're responsible for ordering it, but the director is accountable.

So if that PPE does not get ordered, then I would expect his boss to hold him accountable for that. To give him consequences for that, but if the lower end worker didn't order it when the director told him to, then I would expect the director to hold them accountable and do consequences on that person.

So that's the thing about accountability. There has to be some line of power and some line of consequences, there has to be consequences for

[00:09:00] not doing what you say you're going to do or what you were asked to do or told to do or responsible to do. If there are no consequences, there is no accountability and because safety cannot give consequences.

That's why we cannot hold people accountable going back to why we can't be the safety police. So that's the basis of accountability. And I actually have a 5 steps to it that I'll go over in just a second to simplify even more. But what I want you to understand is that we all believe accountability is an issue.

We all believe that everybody needs to be held accountable to follow safety policies. However, very few people understand how to hold people accountable and why there isn't accountability. So, actually, as part of Safety Management Academy, I have a whole lesson that you can take. And train your management team

[00:10:00] on what is accountability and how you hold people accountable because I have found in my career that most management teams don't understand accountability and they don't know how to hold people accountable and to do it in the right manner to where it actually

changes how you work and improves it and build your culture. Okay, so there are 5 steps to accountability and I want to break this down for you. The very first step is commitment, which means that everybody meet mainly your management team. Your higher ups needs to be committed to whatever policy procedure, whatever you're putting in place,

SOP, JHA's whatever you're wanting people to be held accountable for. And typically, if you think about a safety policy, there's going to be a lot of little tidbits in there. They have to be committed that they, they are going to have their people follow all of those little tidbits.

[00:11:00] So, there has to be commitment, and this is why in Safety Management Academy, I have you set up an executive advisory committee, because you have to get that commitment from the highest levels of your organization.

So, from, I don't know if you have a president or general manager, or a CEO, right? From that, that first level of management, whoever reports to that CEO. They are in your executive advisory committee, and those are the ones that need to say yes, I agree with everything in here and we are committed to following this policy.

And it has to be a commitment of, like, no matter what we follow the policy. This is why I have you write policies that are as vague as possible. So that way, you're not handcuffing yourself in that policy. Like, if you put in there that, We are only going to drive 5 miles an hour in our forklifts, that means the moment somebody drives 7 miles an hour, you have to write them up for it. You don't want to have that type of structure in your policies. You want it to be more of like, you're

[00:12:00] committed to safe driving on the forklift and safe driving is defined as, yada, yada, yada. All right. And maybe a guide or something like that. That is more flexible. So, but you want to have everyone committed that you're going to hold people accountable for safe driving or whatever your safety policy or procedure is.

That is step 1. Step 2 is now that you have this commitment, you have this program and this procedure, this JHA you now need to make sure that everybody's trained on it and that they understand it. So you cannot hold somebody accountable if they've never been trained on it. And you haven't verified that they understand it because you can put somebody in front of a video and say, yep, they're trained on it.

But did they really understand it? So where understanding comes into play is doing some observations or some coaching or some assessments to really verify like, yes, everybody understands this. I love the game of where you ask people trivia questions, but the trivia questions are your safety policies and procedures. And you give out like punch cards

[00:13:00] or incentives on, on right questions. So that way you're really judging their understanding. So one of the, just to get on a caveat here, one of the most cited things in OSHA is hazard communication. So, one way that to combat that is to constantly have people ask them to find a, an SDS or to find the first date on the SDS or what do you do if this chemical spills find it on the SDS.

So that way, when OSHA does come knocking, they have this muscle memory of looking for the SDS and looking at it. So they answer the questions. Right? So that's a great way of measuring understanding. Right? So that is step 2 is make sure everyone's trained on it and that you have measured their understanding of it.

And once you have that, then you set it loose, right? You go to your supervisor and go, now you need to hold everybody accountable. And that means that there has to be consequences. If they don't follow the policies and procedures and those consequences, what I prefer is a progression. Like, maybe it is just a

[00:14:00] coaching session the first time. Maybe it is a right up the 2nd time a suspension, a terminate being sent home a termination, whatever it needs to be. But there needs to be consequences if they don't follow the policies or procedures and going back to what I believe in is that you also want to throw in some positives if they are following the policies and procedures.

That's where you need to give them some attaboys as well. And we can get into effective coaching on another episode, but there has to be consequences. And the person giving those consequences has to have authority over that person. So HR doing the write up or quality or safety doing the write up is not going to work.

It has to be somebody in their line of power, their chain of command that has authority over them, to give them those consequences. Once again, this is why we cannot wear the safety

[00:15:00] hat. And the last thing is number 5 to accountability is consistency. So we have commitment, training, consequences, authority, and consistency.

And consistency means that you always apply accountability and consequences consistently. Like, you're always doing it. You don't let Joe go by with it, but then you write up Mary, right? You can't do that and it can't be the result that's getting written up. It has to be the behavior that's getting written up regardless of the result.

So think about it. If somebody is driving recklessly on the forklift and they don't hit anybody, they should still get written up. But unfortunately, what a lot of locations do, or they should have those same consequences, they should probably be fired, but what a lot of locations do is they only write them up if they get into an accident.

So now what you've built is this culture of like, it's fine if you bend the rules, as long as you don't hit anything, or as long as you don't hurt

[00:16:00] anybody. Where you want to have a culture of like, we consistently apply this accountability, these consequences, regardless of the results. And then you are changing culture because that's what happens when you have a

work practice where everybody can depend that everybody else is going to be doing their job and that if they're not doing their job, there's not going to be any like, unfairness in the consequences. There's not going to be any discrimination. It's all going to be consistent in how it is applied, regardless of their title, regardless of their tenure, regardless of anything.

It's consistent. If somebody jumps on a forklift and they don't have a forklift certification, they get treated the same. Whether that person is a supervisor, whether they are a janitor, whether they are a VP. And if you're doing that, you're going to

[00:17:00] change your company culture. I'll never forget, I walked into a facility one time, and they actually fired a 25 year employee because he stood on a forklift battery to reach a box on the shelf.

And when I asked why he was fired and they said, well, we fired, you know, somebody else for doing the same thing and that guy had only been here for 3 months. But I can't just let this go because the guy's been here for 25 years. He knows the rules like they had proof he knew the rules because there was training and there was documented understanding on a regular basis that he knew the rules.

So that's why you have to have all the little steps in place. But that changes their culture. It's why that place had such a great safety culture as well as business culture, because they knew that they could depend on everybody doing their job and doing it the right way. It comes back to like, everybody needs structure and nobody wants to come into work and be thinking like, I really

[00:18:00] hope that Joe isn't driving the forklift crazy today, or maybe I'll take that job today. So that way we know the job gets done right instead of him horse playing on the forklift, right? So it does change your culture. So it's one of the key points I actually put it in the very beginning of Safety Management Academy, because it is so important to get right and to get in place and the consistency is more important than anything.

So, I hope you enjoyed my tangent on accountability today and that you understand why you can't be putting on that safety hat. But the people wearing the safety hat in your place should be your frontline supervisors or your managers or directors or VPs. There are safety police in your work. It's just not you.

So, I hope you enjoyed this and I will catch up with you in the next episode. Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Safety Police Myth: The Idea That Safety Professionals Can Act as “Safety Police”
  • How a Lack of Safety Enforcement Affects Organizational Culture
  • Why Safety Officer Cannot Be the Direct Authority Over Employees
  • Role of Accountability in Fostering a Positive Workplace Culture
  • Five Steps to Accountability: Breakdown of Essential Steps for Establishing Accountability

Links Mentioned:


Safety Managers, it’s time to redefine our roles and transcend the “safety police” stereotype. Take charge by championing a robust safety accountability system within your organization. Secure commitment from top management, ensuring everyone is aligned with the importance of accountability in fostering a positive safety culture. Prioritize comprehensive training, measure understanding, and implement consequences consistently. Lead by example, encourage positive reinforcement, and instill a collective responsibility for safety.

If the discussions on safety, accountability, and transforming workplace culture resonate with you, don’t miss out on the Safety Geek’s future insights. Subscribe to our podcast or YouTube channel to stay updated on the latest episodes.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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