I have written before about the use of Broken Windows theory in an occupational health and safety context. Earlier this year another OHS professional, Bryan McWhorter, wrote about his success in following this approach.
One advantage of talking about this theory is that it applies a concept from outside the OHS field to affect worker and manager behaviours. A safety professional can use the theory’s origin story to show a different approach to safety management. It allows a rationalisation for enforcing safety on those “long hanging” hazards.
The Broken Windows approach certainly will not work at all workplaces or fit with everyone’s safety management system. As the Wikipedia article notes, it continues to operate on fear, on the breaking of rules and this may not be compatible with where one wants their company’s OHS approach to go, but it seems it can be effective, as long as it is not relied upon for very long.
McWhorter’s article tells of the need to shake safety up in the factory for which he was responsible and Broken Windows helped. It enforced the use of lower order hazard control methods but also applied this across all levels of the workforce, introducing the concept of safety leadership to some of the managers.
Workplace safety is full of clichés such as “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”, “never walk past a hazard”, “lead by example”. Weaknesses and anomalies in these can always be identified but in many workplaces these clichés show a fresh approach to safety. This, in itself, is depressing as OHS laws have existed in most countries for over a generation now and safety is still not a normal part of work for many of us.
I reckon the Broken Windows approach will still be one of those new approaches in many workplaces for a while to come.
(Perhaps safety needs to be re-framed as it is such a sill-y and paneful topic – Couldn’t resist the window “dad jokes”)