There’s a link between how organizations are structured and how strong their commitment to safety is, according to an article in this month’s ASSE Professional Safety journal, The Dissenting Voice – Key Factors, Professional Risks and Value Add.
Article author Dave Rebbitt, CRSP, CHSC, says that one of the greatest risks to worker safety in today’s business climate is the silence of its employees.
The article examines how different organizational structures can affect commitment to occupational safety. Organizations known as the Hierarchical Bureaucratic Organization, that have a top-down authoritarian structure and typically reward conformity, are often indifferent to employees and do not look favorably on creativity or dissent. This work environment can be difficult for a safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professional, who in an attempt to advance a compliance mentality, may be viewed as a dissenter when pointing out an area of poor performance, or an elevated risk.
“Any safety person has been placed in a situation where you have to say ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is right,’” said Rebbitt, CRSP, CHSC, who added that in a Hierarchical Bureaucratic Organization, when a dissenter goes public, the only real defense a company has is to discredit the individual.
In contrast, organizations that uses a Dual Authority Matrix Structure tends to embrace dissent, and see it as a way to maintain corporate integrity. They also enjoy better safety performance.
According to Rebbitt’s article, an empowered employee is exposed to far less risk than a worker in an organization that doesn’t tolerate non-conformity.
Safety professionals who are under pressure to show they deliver value to their employer may find more professional satisfaction working for an organization that embraces dissent, because it could give them more opportunities to demonstrate their value.
In addition, SH&E professionals must learn the power of influence and persuasion, in order to effectively be the voice of dissent.
“It’s really hard to sound the alarm,” explains Rebbitt. “How and when is as important as what you have to say.”
Rebbitt is the corporate HSE manager at Voice Construction in Edmonton, Alberta. During his career he has held senior management positions with various companies. He holds an M.B.A. from Athabasca University, and is a professional international member of ASSE.
Click here for information about ASSE’s Professional Safety journal.