George Winston, for those of you who don’t know him, is a serious, intense concert pianist. Whether he is deftly tapping or hammering the ivories, it’s total concentration. His audience is respectfully hushed, like the gallery at the eighteenth green at the Masters golf tournament when a tournament-winning putt is being lined up. Well, not exactly, because you’re not holding your breath while Winston performs.

Before a recent George Winston concert I attended, a gentleman took to the stage to make a few announcements, including a request to turn “completely off” all cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, beepers (how quaint), etc. And please, no flash photography. What percentage of the audience do you think complied?

In the row in front of me, to the left and right of me in my row, and from behind me, cell phones periodically lit up like lightning bugs in the early evening. Why? What possibly can’t wait 90 minutes for George’s performance to conclude? Is it an addiction? Obsessive-compulsive disorder? Bordeom?

Do you walk the line when it comes to compliance commands?

To be, or not to be

If you think about it, as I did listening to George and letting my mind drift to the notion of compliance (George’s often delicate, sparse meanderings facilitate drifting in and out, like watching a baseball game), our days are filled with opportunities to be compliant individuals, or non-compliant. Test your compliant nature by answering these questions:
  • Do you always buckle up and use a seat belt when driving? When a passenger?
  • Ever park illegally?
  • Ever cruise through a toll plaza and not throw the quarters in the basket?
  • Ever wait for what seems an eternity, then run a red light if no cars are around?
  • Do you always drive under the posted speed limit?
  • When flying, do you listen to the flight attendant’s pre-flight safety instructions? Look up from your magazine?
  • Do you turn off your cell phone during movies in theatres?
  • If you are over 50, have you had the recommended colonoscopy?
  • If you are over 50, do you submit to an annual physical examination?
  • Do you exercise three times a week?
  • Refrain from snacking after eight o’clock at night?
  • Regularly get a solid seven or eight hours sleep?
  • Do you get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis, especially if you are at-risk?
  • Do you get your cholesterol checked on a regular basis, especially if you are at-risk?
  • Are you consistently on time for business meetings and any scheduled appointments, be they business or social?
  • Do you call your mother?
  • Ever call in sick to get a day off when in truth you are not ill?
  • If you are making presentations for your job, do you always stay within your allotted time?
  • Ever pad or fudge, however innocent, businessrelated expense reports?
  • Do you floss regularly?
  • Always deposit recyclables in their proper containers?
  • Do you refrain from screaming, using abusive language, at your children’s youth sports games?
  • Keep it down if your child requests you to be quiet on the sidelines?
  • Ever smoke where you are not permitted to smoke?
  • Ever drive home after a night of over-the-legal limit drinking (alcohol)?
  • Pay your bills on time?
  • Return tools, books, other borrowed items on time?

Minor transgressions

I don’t know about you, but I do not score particularly high on this quiz. So I asked myself, why? Any number of root causes emerge. Laziness. Rationalization and denial: My lapses are minor in the grand scheme of things. Come on, no one is perfect. Culture: I was born in the U.S.A, the home of individualism and independence; the stuff of rock and roll, movies, TV shows and comic book heroes. Role models: I’m Frank Sinatra and I’m going to do it my way. I’m Elvis and I’ll have another fried bananas with peanut butter and bacon sandwich if I want. Peer pressure: What do we call someone who passes this quiz with flying colors? A do-gooder. A square. A meek and mild conformist. Diffident. Gun-shy. Who wants those labels?

Headline news

Somehow I don’t think I’m alone in my non-compliant ways. Read the news: A pro football player gets nailed by airport security after packing a loaded and cocked hand gun in his carry-on luggage. Hello?

A Qatari diplomat tries to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Denver and sparks a bomb scare that puts jet fighters scrambling into the air.

What’s going on here? Stupidity? Hubris? Brain lock? “Oh, I just forgot…” Diplomatic immunity? I think many of us feel entitled to our own personal version of diplomatic immunity when it comes to following all the rules all the time, the doctor’s orders, the pilot’s orders, the health commendations, driving laws, informal codes of conduct, all sorts of so-called social norms.

Seek and ye shall find

After a major workplace incident involving serious injuries, perhaps fatalities, community evacuations or property destruction to the degree it makes national headlines, it’s common for reporters to dig out the company’s compliance history. Often it’s not a pretty picture. Look, this company was cited hundreds of times for violations!

I have no intent to let these “bad actors” slither off the hook. But as everyone in job safety knows, if you want to find non-compliance, and look hard enough, you’re sure to find it.

Just as in everyday life.

We’re an unpredictable and irrational lot. That goes for corporate behavior as well. So we need enforcers; reasonable, realistic enforcers. Sometimes we get that in workplace safety and health, other times we don’t. Consistency isn’t one of the hallmarks of compliance or OSHA enforcement. But I find media coverage consistently oversimplifies the story of a tragic workplace event, relying on raw compliance history, numbers of citations and dollar penalty amounts. As with those everyday routines in our little quiz, it’s not that black and white. You need to dig deeper to unravel why people, or organizations, act they way they do.