Safety Accountability

Where is the Safety Accountability!

Know the line… don’t cross it.



            How would safety professionals across the world answer this question, “What is the most frustrating issue you deal with as a safety professional?”  I bet a lack of accountability would be a topic at the top of the list. Noncompliance with rules, procedures, and programs is an indication of a poor safety culture.  Great companies draw the lines in the sand and there are consequences for not following the rules. 


            Think about how rule enforcement works.  Highway 123 connects my residence in Seneca, South Carolina with my training center in Greenville, South Carolina.  It is a short 35-mile trip that passes through two towns Clemson, and Easley.  I can think of 3 specific places where the police sit with their radar gun.  They are not there every day but you can see where the grass is worn on the side of the road where they park.  I know without a doubt if I travel that path on a consistent basis, they will record my speed and they do not forgive noncompliance.  The consequences are clear.  You get a ticket if you speed through these areas. 


            The question is, “How does that consistent enforcement influence my behavior?”  I DRIVE THE SPEED LIMIT!  It is a simple concept.  When you have clear expectations and consistent enforcement, people follow the rules. 


            How do you apply the same concept in a work environment?  You can look at accountability in two different.  1) Accountability for basic rules.  2) Accountability for fulfilling your responsibilities for your job position. 


Critical Steps to Build Accountability with Basic Rules:


  1. Develop clear rules and regulations for people to follow.
  2. Make them simple to understand.
  3. Define the consequences for noncompliance.
  4. Train and communicate the expectations relentlessly.
  5. Apply consistent and just disciplinary action for noncompliance.


When I worked at OSHA as a Compliance Officer, I visited over 200 different sites in a 3-year period.  Every company produced something different but the rules were similar.  I experienced a similar perspective when I worked with Fluor.  We performed contract/construction work for clients all over the world.  Every safety orientation that I sat through had the same OSHA rules to follow in a different environment.  The difference between the good and the great safety cultures was the ability to hold people accountable to the rules.  You knew where the “speed traps” were and you did not break the rules because they were clear, simple, evident, and consistently enforced. 


There are some obstacles to overcome.  I have also been in some environments where the rules were enforced ONLY if the safety professional saw the noncompliance.  This type of safety police culture will not build a best in class safety culture.  Supervisors and managers have to take the initiative to enforce the rules based on the clear guidelines and consequences.  Safety cultures have the potential to succeed when leaders take ownership of employee accountability. 


Critical Steps to Build Accountability with Leadership Responsibilities:


  1. Develop clear rules and regulations for people to follow.
  2. Make them simple to understand.
  3. Define the consequences for noncompliance.
  4. Train and communicate the expectations relentlessly.
  5. Apply consistent and just disciplinary action for noncompliance.



 Deliberate Accountability: Measure and Score Leading Indicators (AIST, October 2010) (The Leader, Winter 2010)


         An exceptional game plan provides the insight to win, but there is no way to determine a winner without a score. By building a scorecard for individual contributors, a stra­tegic system to evaluate people will drive improvement and instill accountability in the workplace. A score provides a method to integrate urgency into an individual’s daily expectations. A scorecard measures on a scale of good to bad.

Weak safety cultures rely on inadequate responses to define safety success. When I worked with OSHA as a com­pliance officer in the early 1990s, I inspected more than 200 sites, and I experienced inadequate descriptions of safety performance. When I asked sites to describe their safety performance, I received vague responses: fine, OK, good. Superficial descriptions of safety performance are common because we do not always measure the detailed leading indicators that promote success. Strong safety cul­tures avoid these traps. They keep score on critical leading indicators, and they take an active interest in the details. Successful safety cultures do not accept mediocrity.

Accountability is essential to prevent injuries, but what does it mean to hold someone accountable for safety and keep score on their performance? This is often a defi­cient part of safety programs because leaders wait until something bad happens before they feel the need to hold anyone accountable. It is too late after a negative event to hold someone accountable for safety. The answer to accountability is simple: set standards for the people, and track the results.

For example, if audits are required, track audit participa­tion and measure the quality of audits. If an organization values sustained corrective action, track the number of repeat observations on each audit. If a program requires supervisors to perform pre-shift safety meetings, track the quality and participation in the process. The records become a performance measurement. Tracking prompts rewards for achievement and consequences for failure to meet standards. True accountability means that if you do not meet your standard, you use progressive motivation to drive your desired results. The consequences can include termination. Remember, this is life or death. You cannot have a soft reaction for leaders who do not meet safety stan­dards. This is a perfect opportunity to instill expectations, urgency and discipline into your program.

If your organization does not keep detailed individual scores for safety, you will experience an adjustment period when you introduce the idea. I learned this lesson the hard way. At a previous employer, I developed a scorecard that tracked management participation in four categories. I tracked audit participation, safety team support, safety meeting completion and safety procedure reviews. Each supervisor and manager had responsibilities, and I docu­mented their performance. I gave them a score for each item, and I rolled up the scores into a final score. Then I stack-ranked each leader from the best to the worst. I high­lighted the top 10% in green and the bottom 10% in red.

After the report was complete, I distributed the report to the leadership team. The process sounds reasonable, right? The score showed who followed through with their respon­sibilities and who did not. That is the type of accountability you need because it tells you who deserves a reward and who needs motivation. After all, safety is a condition of employment. You have to know the score, and the score has to mean something.

The problem I encountered was my manager was in the red! How do you hide your boss’s performance? The system was valuable because it measured management com­mitment with visible tools that are proven to drive safety success. You could not hide behind vague performance answers like good, fine and OK. However, the backlash was dangerous. When my manager reviewed the results, he came to my office in a bad mood! Needless to say, he expressed his urgency with my approach. He was not happy, and my scorecard had a short lifespan. Somehow, however, I managed to keep my job.

Where did I go wrong? Is scoring real safety perfor­mance bad? My mistake was I did not communicate the purpose and intent of the scorecard well, and I embar­rassed important people. The moral of the story is you have to develop your scorecards as a team to gain the greatest value. Your team cannot fear the score. The goal is for lead­ers to embrace measurement techniques and play to win. The prize is a quality of life for your employees.

Since my initial scorecard experience, I have implement­ed similar systems with success. Buy-in from the appropri­ate parties is the key to success. Stack-ranking performance in critical safety systems identifies your weaknesses, and it sparks a sense of responsibility in those who do not want to finish in the red.




            You can look at accountability from two perspectives; rule enforcement and responsibilities for safety processes.  If expectations are clear, just, evident, and enforced in both categories, the safety culture will evolve in a positive direction.  BUT, if you only post the speed limit sign and you never write any tickets, people will follow their own rules.  Accountability is that simple. 


David G. Lynn Author Page on Amazon.