Avoid the “it’s the policy” trap

By: Ed Zalewski

Publication: Supervisor Safety Alert

Date Posted: 09/15/2021

Imposing discipline on a worker for a safety violation is never easy.

When you have to do it, you want to make sure the discipline is both justified and effective in preventing recurrence. Giving an uncomfortable talk that turns out to be ineffective is a waste of time.

The “uncomfortable” part of discipline is often a factor in whether a disciplinary talk is effective. You might be tempted to deflect uncomfortable situations by saying “I don’t want to do this, but the policy says I have to.”

If you do this, the effectiveness of the discipline is diminished: the employee doesn’t think he or she did anything improper and therefore probably won’t change the behavior (since you don’t seem to expect a change).

Uncomfortable as it may be, you need to take ownership of the discipline, but in a way that relates to the employee (as opposed to protecting your own interests). Try saying “I’m doing this because I don’t want you to get hurt,” or “I’m doing this because I insist on safe performance.”

Discipline will never be a fun part of your job, but it is a necessary and important part of keeping your team members safe. Be diligent and consistent with discipline, since that’s what your company policy expects.

About the author
Ed Zalewski - EH&S Editor

Ed specializes in safety issues such as injury recordkeeping, walking-working surfaces, and forklifts. He is responsible for researching regulatory activity and issues facing EHS professionals in order to develop and update content for J. J. Keller’s EHS products.

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