I have witnessed many different approaches and learned many valuable lessons over my 25-year career in safety. Most importantly, I have learned that safety leaders and organizations must balance the need for regulatory compliance with a commitment to their most valuable asset, their employees.


It would be ridiculous to argue that maintaining compliance with safety regulations is unimportant. These regulations provide minimum guidelines for establishing and maintaining a safe work environment. However, there is not a page in the standards that we can turn to for every scenario that arises in the workplace. Therefore, safety efforts need to use these guidelines and include common sense strategies that identify, eliminate, and reduce exposure in the workplace. These strategies often go above and beyond regulatory requirements. This is the true meaning of commitment.

Early in my career I frequently referenced regulatory requirements when communicating with front-line employees. I believed that using OSHA as reinforcement would motivate employees to make the right decisions. Over time, I realized that the message I was sending did not express the level of commitment the company had toward sending people home safely each day. Sure, we did not want to be cited for hazards or lack of programs, but the real reason for the safety effort was the well-being of the employee.

After some reflection, I started to think about compliance from the front-line employee perspective. What does an employee think when the management team starts fixing hazards in the work area solely because they want to be compliant? Perhaps they think that issues are being addressed for fear of a citation rather than concern for their well-being. To avoid this pitfall, eliminate or reduce references to compliance during safety conversations. Focus on the commitment the company has toward keeping people free from harm and eliminating, reducing, or controlling exposure. Changing the way we communicate the safety message will take focus, but in time it will become second nature.


We learn from our unique experiences. Take a few moments to reflect on your own experiences and see if there is an opportunity to improve how you communicate the safety message. As safety leaders, we commit to employee safety because we care about people, not compliance.

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Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at [email protected]