There are a number of popular approaches that assist organizations in improving their safety performance. The OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) organization places a significant focus on regulation fundamentals. Behavior Based Safety relies on observation techniques to identify weaknesses in safety activities. The ISO approach has heavy emphasis on policies and procedures. 

In some areas of the world, I have experienced a strong theory x, or punitive, approach to safety incidents. Those of you who read this column know that I focus heavily on safety culture diagnostics and the engagement of frontline and management personnel in continuous improvement team efforts to address and deliver a safety culture of correct.

Defenders and deniers = animosity

Each of these approaches, and some others I am sure, has their cadre of people who strongly believe and vigorously defend their favored safety performance approach. In the safety press, at conferences, during online debates and in other interactions, it is not uncommon to experience some real animosity between the parties. Recently, on one of the online forums in which I participate, communication between the “warring” parties has become downright personal and nasty. 

As I interacted with the forum leader of the group, he mentioned a quote from his monthly sayings calendar: “Do not speak if it is no improvement on silence.”

This brought to mind one of my mother’s frequent sayings: “If you can’t say something nice about someone then be silent.”  (I am sure there were at least another 364 “mother says” quotes, but we didn’t catalogue them or put them in calendar format as she shepherded us through life with these on a daily basis). 

One of the proverbial sayings calendars I have seen includes a couple of other items which make sense in vigorous professional debates: “When words are many, transgression is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” One of my other calendar favorites goes along the lines of: “A man of knowledge uses words of restraint. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

As I witness the endless series of debates on important safety topics, processes and approaches, the messages that I reapply in the workplace come from protagonists who display professional civility as a principle and value. We all have disagreements with selected topics and people, and how we choose to deal with these disagreements makes a difference in both our lives and others.  Let’s discuss, debate and learn with civility and respect.