Many companies plead guilty to breaches of OHS legislation but remain convinced that they have done nothing wrong.
Employers have been constantly frustrated by never being sure that they are complying with OHS law because compliance is now a very grey area and one that few people are brave enough to say has been achieved. So it is no surprise when an employer responds to a workplace incident by saying “I’ve done nothing wrong”. In their experience this statement is true but if they had a basic understanding of safety and OHS law (two very different things), they would know that if an incident occurs something must have gone wrong.
One of the frustrations of the safety profession is that, in the real world, when someone admits guilt it equates to an admission of doing something wrong. That does not seem to be case in Law where guilty pleas are entered as a risk management strategy for reducing the level of penalty. In the Courts, a guilty plea is often perceived as a cynical exercise by the employer (and their lawyer) while the families of the victim are looking for remorse, an expression of regret and maybe even an apology.
“If the inspector finds a violation, never admit guilt or knowledge of the condition. Remember, the inspector is not there to help with internal safety efforts but to issue fines for violations.”
Look at the advice provided by several US insurance brokers to Risk & Insurance magazine in a 2008 article:
“Educate your employees. Instruct them to never admit guilt or take responsibility. Often, your employee or organization may not have caused the accident, but someone stepped forward and took the blame. You can even lose coverage because insurance will not cover intentional acts.”
The default setting in Western society seems to be to admit nothing unless guilt can be proven. Safety is often “only follow the rules when the boss is watching” or only when there is a real threat of immediate penalty. We see this in relation to speed cameras, the wearing of PPE, disciplining children in public and many other situations.
OHS is based on a no-blame system in a society that wants to allocate blame. Society is clever enough to understand that some incidents are unavoidable but it also expects someone to stand up and accept responsibility for the mistakes that were avoidable.