ISHN conducted an exclusive interview with Jim Spigener., who presented a talk on “Discipline and Punishment: Are They the Same Thing?” at the National Safety Congress & Expo, Sept 15-17, in San Diego.

Are discipline and punishment the same thing? If not, please explain the difference.

No -- discipline is the art of getting something right consistently. The other is a negative consequence administered due to a behavioral error. The punishment is usually done to improve the discipline the individual is applying to their behavior.

An employee is terminated for a safety violation as part of a discipline policy. So is that discipline or punishment?

It is usually punishment. It is punishment if done thoughtfully to actually to improve the ability of the organization to have discipline. Or if done in alignment with a value for people, punishment is ultimately to protect the individual from themselves. Usually punishment is an escalating process. By the time the employee is terminated they have proven themselves incapable of the level of discipline to prevent injury or death.

An employee incurs multiple safety violations over time. Should he be disciplined or punished?

To add to the above, a leader who truly cares about the sanctity of life and has afforded the employee a good system to work in and training to do the job safely ultimately has a moral obligation to terminate those who have gross disregard for their and others safety.

What is the most important “takeaway” you want attendees to leave your presentation with?

Discipline is a requirement for safe operations and protection of human life. Punishment is sometimes necessary to create an awareness of the seriousness of this. Ultimately, adults who get through a progressive reprimand system have proven they are incapable of protecting themselves and others. As a leader you have a moral obligation to protect them and it might mean removing them from the environment to do so. Punishing people should be done to protect people. A leader should always make that clear to themselves and those they lead. 

Jim Spigener is senior vice president for BST, Ojai, Calif.