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The Right Way to Use Discipline to Promote Workplace Safety

Originally posted by Chris Kilbourne on http://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

Discipline can be a key element in ensuring safety in your workplace. This may seem counter-intuitive because some people would tell you to avoid discipline so that employees do not have a disincentive to comply. However, if you use discipline consistently and progressively, it can be your ally.

To effectively enforce compliance with safety rules, a discipline program must be:

  • Communicated.Workers must know the safety rules and the penalties for not complying.
  • Progressive. Minor infractions, first offenses, and inadvertent slip-ups should receive less severe penalties than repeat offenses or actions that could cause serious injuries. If a new worker is caught without safety gear, a warning might be in order. The same worker caught without safety gear 6 months later should receive a stronger penalty. The steps in progressive discipline are oral warning, written warning, suspension, and termination.
  • Fairly applied. Workers may have grounds for retaliation claims if they are disciplined for infractions for which other workers are not. Also, if a worker is disciplined for something that is not his or her fault—for example, the worker was using safety equipment in poor repair because the employer did not provide replacement gear—the employer could be liable.
  • Consistently enforced.Discipline should be used to change behavior that could lead to accidents. Work rules should be consistently enforced, and workers who continue to violate the rules despite training and guidance should be disciplined following the steps in progressive discipline. If workers are only disciplined only after an accident, you’re not going to get positive results from discipline. Employers that demonstrate an effective safety program can generally show an extensive record of regular worksite inspections, oral warnings for minor infractions, and written warnings for repeat infractions, rather than simply documenting suspensions or terminations for major infractions or accidents.
  • Documented. Make sure you keep a record of each time you discipline a worker for violating a safety-related rule, the rule for which the worker was disciplined, and the form of discipline (oral or written warning, or perhaps a suspension and required retraining).