Incidents happen and can't always be avoided. However, for the good of your company and its safety program, incident repeaters must be identified and, if necessary, disciplined.

Repeater policy

To reduce the frequency and severity of incidents, have a policy that governs the activities and conduct of employees. This "repeater policy" will allow your company to better control employee deficiencies and identify employees that:

  • May have a physical problem that limits their performance.
  • May have been improperly trained.
  • May have a behavioral problem that's causing them to take more risk.
  • May be having problems outside the work environment that are affecting performance.
  • Disobey policies and procedures.
  • Are unable to notice a hazard.

With a repeater policy, either points or number of infractions can be assigned for violations of company safety policy, and either can be used to determine management action.

Changing behavior

Once the repeater has been identified, the following improvement steps can be taken:

  • Clearly instruct employees on duties and procedural rules.
  • Listen to and adjust for employee problems and complaints.
  • Do your best to help employees improve their job performance.
  • Provide criticism tactfully.
  • Discipline where necessary.

Discipline can be used to try and change repeat offenders' behavior. It is appropriate to use discipline when other approaches to employees' performance problems fail.

The purpose of a disciplinary program is to get employees to comply with established rules of conduct and to correct improper attitudes about following rules. Its main goal is to improve the performance of the safety program through employee involvement.

Progressive approach

Disciplinary measures can be taken in a progressive manner:

1) Initial disciplinary report. First, help the employee figure out ways to prevent future recurrence, explaining why this verbal warning is necessary. A written disciplinary report should be made part of the employee's record, with the inference that future, more serious disciplinary action can occur.

2) Subsequent disciplinary reports. These written reports are of a more serious nature, showing employees that the company will not tolerate the behavior of those who repeatedly disobey safety rules and procedures. Guidelines must be reasonable as to how many offenses can occur before termination. These reports open the door to discuss the last step in the process, termination.

3) Termination. This is the last measure, and an unfortunate one. Rules should be outlined to determine what offense(s) would cause immediate termination.

Taking action

There are four elements that help employees receive discipline:

Immediate (unless a cooling off period is necessary). Supervisors should begin the disciplinary process as soon as possible after the violation is noticed. The more quickly the disciplinary procedure follows the offense, the more likely it will be associated with the offense, rather than personal reasons.

Advance Warning. Management must let all employees know what the rules are and how they are enforced to give them clear warning.

Consistent. Discipline that is consistent helps employees know what the rules and procedures are. Inconsistent discipline inevitably leads to confusion and uncertainty.

Impersonal. Disciplinary measures are more effective if employees feel that it is their actions and behavior, not their personality, that is being criticized. Build relationships with your employees so that they believe in your judgement as a team member.

Dealing with unions

Disciplinary measures can also be effective in a union environment. The following procedures will enhance your disciplinary procedures and help you win during arbitration:

  • Forewarn employees of the consequences of an employee's conduct. Give notice in the contract of "Rules of Safety & Conduct," which should be agreed on between the employer and the union. Give employees a copy and have them sign off on the information.

  • Make certain your company's rule or managerial order ("Rules of Safety and Conduct") is reasonably related to the orderly and safe operation of the business and the performance that the company might properly expect of the employee. This is related to "Job and Performance."

  • Conduct an investigation in an equitable and unbiased manner. Interview the employee in the presence of union representation, and interview all possible witnesses.

  • At the investigation a judge will need substantial proof that the employee was guilty as charged. This is where you need your documentation file to back you up.

  • Show no favoritism or discrimination to one employee over another.

  • The degree of discipline must be reasonably related to the seriousness of the employee's proven offense and the employee's record with the company.

Prevent reoccurance

Failing to address incident repeaters promptly can undermine your company's profitability. So when incident repeaters rear their ugly heads take disciplinary action to prevent reoccurrence.

SIDEBAR - How to confront a repeater

  • State the problem or violation without judgement or opinion.
  • Have the employee state his/her point of view.
  • Determine how it happened; don't ask why.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Impose the disciplinary action quietly and impersonally.
  • Hear all objectives.
  • Solicit a positive commitment from the employee to prevent reoccurrence.
  • End on a positive note.

SIDEBAR - Disciplinary report should contain

  • Nature of the incident. For example: drugs/alcohol, violation of safety rules, conflict of interest, possession of firearms, and so on.
  • Action to be taken to prevent reoccurrence.
  • Details of the offense.
  • Employee corrective action.
  • Employee remarks.
  • Reviewing signatures.