The risk of being over-policied

The latest OHS podcast from Boardroom Radio reinforces the need to enforce company policies.  The impliacation is that it is very easy to equate legislative compliance with the existence of a policy instead of the implementation of a policy.

The need to keep polices and procedures simple was mentioned but there is the risk that brevity does not necessarily equal clarity.  This links to earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog articles that discuss communication.  It is one thing to have rules, it is another to make sure workers know them and yet another to have faith that they are being implemented.  The emphasis on application and enforcement cannot be stressed enough.

Andrew Douglas stated in the podcast that

“the more policies and procedures you give, the less likely there is compliance…”

In many workplaces, policies and procedures are often perceived as “arse-covering exercises” and this is often due to the reaction of companies to a workplace incident.  Bullying is a good example of companies introducing a policy after an incident of bullying.  Business and safety professionals have a habit of shutting the door after the horse has bolted and this reaction devalues the message.

Companies need to introduce policies as an element of good business not as a result of being caught out.  Many issues can be anticipated by the activity in other sectors of one’s industry or by general safety issues.  Good safety professionals anticipate issues.

Douglas mentions that there is a risk of being “over-policied” where too many policies can generate confusion.  Recently Monica Johns mentioned in a SafetyAtWorkBlog comment that

“Safety is, very simply put, a quality concern.  A workplace safety incident is really a defect produced by a failure in the process.”

Big Q quality is indeed central to proving compliance and many safety professionals do not give document control and quality management systems the attention they require.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, communication, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , ,

4 thoughts on “The risk of being over-policied”

  1. I must admit playing tag with you last SA WorkCover conference was the only enjoyable part of the entire conference, I am hopeful that you will attend the conference again this year.

    Your comment of \”discuss safety in the abstract\” is what has happened within this industry.
    There is always talk about improving safety, the same talk was in place when I first started work pumping petrol on Saturday mornings at age 13.
    I remember all too clearly the safety professionals interviewing my parents when my brother lost his life in a workplace incident working in their transport business.
    I remember my eldest son going to work for the first time at age 12 for my parents and being terrified that he would also become a workplace death if my parents had not heeded the lesson\’s of workplace safety.
    I remember being injured at work myself and knowing that the only reason I was injured was because of the lack of work place safety understanding by my immediate supervisor.

    I guess you could say that my entire life has been about understanding the reason for a safe workplace.
    It could be that \”grounding\” that ensures that my work in rebuilding lives is now the focal point of my day/week/month/year.

    The sad thing is without funding I am unable to save more people, so sadly they go to the scrap heap of humanity, a working life lost in a sea of degraded acceptance and accountability as the people who do have the ability to prevent a great deal of the tragedy sail past without as much as a sideways glance at the human refuse.

  2. Below is my response to the pod cast. I doubt that any one will respond.

    What I find interesting about this podcast is that it talks of OHSW as an item that can be selected from the shelf -such as a can of baked beans- or not. Yes there are too many times when rules and regulations are not understood and incidents happen -a workplace injury or worse a workplace death- and some how the over-arching OHSW industry laws the blame for the lack of knowledge onto the injured or the deceased worker. \”The rule book is in the lunch room for everyone to read\” is a quote I heard at a conciliation hearing just a week back. \”It\’s not my fault if he didn\’t read it\” is another quote from the same hearing.

    Meanwhile people such as myself are left to pick up the pieces put the injured worker back together and help them to move on with their lives now with a broken body and on much less income than before the incident happened.

    All the time the professionals who make a very good salary out of the over arching WorkCover industry just move on as if nothing of any great significance has happened. It never seems to occur to the professionals involved that they need to look more closely at their own duty of care and wonder just why with all the OHSW rules and regulations, with all the policy procedures and guidelines that have been developed why has there not been a drop in the number of workplace injuries or workplace deaths?

    Please do not think I feel that OHSW guidelines are not important, they are vitally important.
    What I see happening though is that a whole industry has grown out of workplace safety, everything from very expensive training conferences and seminars to print of posters to hang up behind the toilet door or in the lunch room. Attend any conference and there will be a goody bag of hand outs from the sponsors -most of them are cheap feel good things that are of no real value to anyone except they are a place to put a company logo-.
    The talk around the coffee pot over the next few days will be about the conference, the power points the information, there may even be a report written up and submitted to the HR people or by the HR people of what was the new learning. But that talk does not filter down to the factory or shop floor.
    The white collar workers have not considered that they are in place to protect the lives and limbs of the blue collar or blue singlet worker.

    I have been rebuilding the broken lives of injured workers and the families of deceased workers here in South Australia for 16 years -in fact tomorrow \”30th May will be the anniversary of my own workplace injury that sent me on this journey- I do this work with no funding, just my own limited income of under $16,000 per year.
    I have no expectation that any of the highly qualified and highly paid presenters of this podcast will take anything I have written here as an issue that they need to investigate.
    I have no expectations that other than \”that is good work you are doing\” will be the comment of any of the presenters in regard to the \”Bags of Love\” food relief programme for the injured workers who did not go to work to be injured are now forced to need because their own pre-injury income is slashed to a livable level.
    to be honest I expect nothing from any of the presenters other than to think that as long as the OHSW industry keeps churning out conferences for them to attend either as a presenter or as an attendee then all is well within the wider WorkCover industry.

    Yours in service
    Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson
    Work Injured Resource Connection

    1. Rosemary

      Many thanks for your comment and thanks for your effort.

      Since I sat next to you by chance at a South Australian Workcover Conference over a year ago now, you have helped keep me grounded in the realities of the profession I have chosen to work with. I have always held similar views to yours, indeed I would be disappointed if any OHS professional did not start out in the profession for reasons other than to keep people safe.

      One of the biggest risks for any professional in any profession is to become divorced from the humanity and the reality of the job and the purpose. I would say that in most professions the divorce is permanent but every so often there are some that are reconciled or reunited with the purpose. Rare are those who are never divorced or even separated for a while.

      You thoughts and perspective and comments in the SafetyAtWorkBlog are valued and provide a necessary anchor of humanity as we talk and discuss safety, sometimes, in the abstract.

  3. Trying to get CEOs and senior executives to discuss safety can be difficult but getting them to listen to podcasts seems even more of a challenge but BoardRoom Radio has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that its OHS-related podcasts have been listened to over 11,000 times in 2010. This is a terrific reach for business podcasts and shows the importance of developing partnerships and content provision links with other sympathetic media outlets.

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