“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” said CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. A new journal article says companies that encourage dissent have better workplace safety.
“The Dissenting Voice — Key Factors, Professional Risks and Value Add” in the April edition of the American Society of Safety Engeineers’ journal, Professional Safety, examines how different organizational structures can affect commitment to occupational safety.
Author Dave Rebbit, corporate HSE manager at Voice Construction in Edmonton, Alberta, writes that companies that have a Hierarchial Bureaucratic Organization and a top-down authoritarian structure typically reward conformity and don’t look favorably on dissent.
At these companies, the safety pro may be viewed as a dissenter when pointing out an area of poor performance or an elevated risk. The only real defense a company has is to discredit the person bringing the information.
At other companies that have what Rebbit calls a Dual Authority Matrix Structure, dissent is embraced to maintain corporate integrity.
The article says these companies have better safety performance. An empowered employee is exposed to far less risk than a worker in an organization that doesn’t tolerate non-conformity.
What can you do?
So, let’s say you know you work at the hierarchial type of company. What can you do as safety manager to avoid being discredited when you have bad news to deliver?
Rebbit says safety pros must understand the forces driving key stakeholders. Managers want to hear about achievable, practical solutions. So safety pros should offer a solution or options for action when delivering news about safety risks that require action.
By communicating solutions and options, safety pros show management they are solution providers who add value to the organization.
Of course, this style of communication will also benefit the safety pro at companies that encourage dissent.
OSHA penalties for discouraging whistleblowers
The value of getting workers to speak up about safety problems hasn’t been lost on OSHA administrator David Michaels.
OSHA has a key role in listening to whistleblowers. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than twenty whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety and other federal laws.
When do employees go to the feds? When they think their company won’t listen and they will or already have suffered retaliation because of voicing their safety and other concerns.
It’s a key reason why a culture of accepting dissent is key to a good occupational safety program that works to reduce employee injuries.