Posted on: November 3, 2010 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Some employers use the term ‘compliance’ like a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card in a Monopoly game. A compliance attitude is likely to kill workers and pollute earth.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act is a bare minimum. In the USA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are among the first to acknowledge that standards they hold employers too, set a minimum level of ‘compliance’, writes David Broadbent on

Legislators do not even say that their Acts are Good Practice, they say minimal practice. In Asia and Europe, legislation is the same. Acts and inspectorates are political by design, and set minimum or ‘reasonable’ standards by which a country is willing to accept certain workplace behaviour.

Silica PEL differs

Some several years ago I was asked to write a review of the impacts of silica for a large multi-national listed company, and had an exposure to an industry segment that maintained potential high risks of litigation from this sector.

I explored Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) to silica dust in foundry operations throughout the world. Does it surprise you to know that PEL compliance levels were different in different jurisdictions.

Disease processes are still poorly understood. The same employer could be exposing employees to different concentrations of silica dust, and remain compliant, but not necessarily maintain safe working environment.

Legal compliance kills

An attitude of compliance can get it wrong and kill workers, as revealed un the book ‘Killer Company: James Hardie Exposed’ by Matt Peacock. The employer, in the early days, was compliant with laws regarding management of a fibre. Then profit exceeded conscience, and they restricted publication of known risks to employees and consumers.

As a management and leadership team, if you set a corporate standard of compliance, then compliance is the best you could expect from your workforce, and that is not good enough, and not good business.

Next time you investigate a fatality, or High Potential Incident (HPI), don’t be surprised to find that employees “missed by that much”.

Laws and lies

One of the ‘sacred cows’ in the safety world, has also found itself manipulating information to workers, to maintain or leverage a commercial advantage. Here are some examples.

•    DuPont lied about and covered up risks associated with its Teflon chemicals. For years DuPont knew a chemical in Teflon, a likely carcinogen, was persistent and toxic, yet the company covered up evidence and withheld safety data. In 2005, EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million, the largest civil administrative penalty ever won, after DuPont was found guilty on three counts of hiding safety studies throughout the 1980s and beyond.

•    DuPont’s disposal of this chemical in landfills, burn pits and injection wells throughout the 1980s polluted the Ohio River, leaving a legacy of water pollution that threatens community health still.

•    Throughout the 1980’s, DuPont was the largest global producer of ozone-destroying CFCs. According to a 1991 EPA study, the ozone damage will create 12 million skin cancers, causing 200 000 deaths through 2040. DuPont denied the hazards of CFCs for decades, then continued to produce and sell the chemical in the developing world after being forced to end production in the US and Europe.

•    DuPont funded the 1989 founding of the Global Climate Coalition, a phony front group of gas, oil and chemical companies aligned to spread lies about “myths” of climate change.

•    Lead, mercury and other toxic pollution from DuPont’s plant in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, through the mid-1980s was responsible for cancer and other illnesses among residents there, according to a 2002 jury verdict. DuPont also paid $38.5 million to residents of a company-owned town next to the site. Ongoing high cancer rates in the town are raising concerns that clean-up and remediation efforts have failed.

•    In 1989, the company was hit with $1.5 million in punitive damages by a jury who found DuPont guilty of fraudulently concealing health records of workers exposed to asbestos.
Safety numbers game

Some months ago the DuPont plant in West Virginia was fined for 11 violations found to have contributed to a fatal phosgene link on the plant. Workers at the plant are on record as saying this was a “tip of the iceberg”.

Some have suggested that DuPont would go to extreme means to “keep their numbers looking good”.

This is the same corporation that has a significant market share in assisting other businesses with safety systems, by Behaviour Based Safety (BBS).

Compliance complacency

Please don’t feel complacent about compliance. In the last twelve months we have seen admissions in the USA congress that senior Vice Presidents of one of the worlds most successful car companies, and the founder of Lean Manaufacuring, Toyota, were keeping two sets of books on safety issues, including acceleration and braking of the Prius, Corolla, and other models.

Compliance fails

BP’s Tony Howard was brought on board following the horrific Texas City disaster. One of his briefs was to target and rectify many identified issues with regard to poor safety culture, found to be a global phenomenon in BP.

One of his key strategies was what he called ‘laser beam strategy’, all about compliance, and it was an abject failure. Howard acknowledged that BP had to follow OSHA findings, oversaw the spending of a billion dollars on upgrades to Texas City Refinery.

Even after the “upgrades” they still did not “comply”, and received the largest OSHA fines in USA history. If your benchmark is “compliance”, falling a little short can be disastrous.

Since Deepwater Horizon blowout was capped, BP spin doctors were at work. There was even a well scripted e-mail from Tony Howard (pre-departure) which attempted to tell BP employees not to be concerned about their work environments, they were in a safe company.

He failed to mention that two of their refineries account for 97% of wilful violations found in the refining industry over the past three years.

One OSHA official has described BP as a company with a systematic safety problem. Three independent investigations into this company found consistent conclusions post Texas City. Do organisations learn from their own mistakes?

Aim at best practice

During some weeks in India I have been continuing to support the introduction of SAFE-T-NET Technologies in a significant multi-national operation. What I found very refreshing to see was a genuine desire for achieving global best practice in safety.

Here “compliance” is a foreign word.

Some first world leaders speak about their own safety goals as being about compliance. They promote a stamp on the front door; ANSI/Z10, AS/NZS4801, OHSAS18001, as a mark that they are compliant and certified. Sorry guys, this is not the case. Every one of those documents is a political compilation.

Compliance is borderline failure

Compliance is not science, nor culture, hardly even an attitude. It is all about not getting caught.

If the law, regulation or standard is a borderline document, and we are then producing another document that has as a key objective just “complying” with the first, then we create at risk of disaster. It is what I have called the “Cascading Influence of Failure”.

Global operations, at each local operation become responsible for developing local standards and procedures to comply with local requirements, and the problems perpetuate.

Internal “guidance standards” develop a stature far greater than was intended by their authors.

It is time to discard “compliance”. It remains an “excuse” in safety language. How many accidents have we investigated and found, that despite the business being “compliant”, incidents still happen and people die.
We must looking beyond “compliance” in all areas of our operations. We must strive to achieve and behave “Beyond Compliance”.

* David G Broadbent is the founder and owner of based in Australia.


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