Too often we mistake compliance for safety. Although safety and compliance are complimentary and are both important components of a safety management system (SMS), our primary focus should always be on safety. Safety is defined as the freedom from danger, risk, injury or loss. Compliance by contrast is the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yielding.
Regulatory compliance standards prescribed by MSHA/OSHA?DOT/EPA etc are great resources. We should use these guidelines as inputs to our Safety Programs. After all the government spent and continues to spend billions of dollars to provide us with the basics on how to avoid injury in the workplace. No need to reinvent the wheel right?
So, if the government has spent all this time and money writing and enforcing the standards and essentially “helping us” stay safe, why do we often feel achieving compliance is like using a hammer to turn in a screw?
The reason is simple, compliance is the wrong tool for achieving safety. The government guidelines are generalized. Yes they are based on extensive studies, but when was the last time OSHA visited your workplace and asked you to help them write a standard? This is where safety comes in!
We are the foremost experts on our processes, our people and our values. This means we are also best to identify and evaluate potential risk and also the best to determine how to design our processes to eliminate or mitigate these risks. No one can keep us safer than we can keep ourselves.
This is why things such as having a safety manual or obtaining your OSHA 10 certification are merely the compliance pieces of an overall safety management system.
Here is a comparison of the key areas of an SMS within a safety based culture versus a compliance only based culture: