Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility – But What About Accountability?

| September 19, 2007

When safety is at issue, responsibility is important — but so is accountability.

Security contractor Blackwater is once again under scrutiny because of concerns about a lack of accountability for its actions in Iraq.  According to a Congressional Research Service report cited in, concerns have been raised because of “the apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable…”  Similar accountability issues have been raised in the wrongful death lawsuits filed against Blackwater as a result of the killing of 4 men working for Blackwater in Iraq in 2004.  According to Frontline, those lawsuits charge that Blackwater “knowingly and intentionally” sent the men out “without the needed and promised protections” such as equipment, personnel and maps.

Although most organizations do not have the high profile of Blackwater, clearly defined occupational safety & health responsibilities and accountabilities are important to every organization.

An occupational safety and health management system is only effective when roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities are clearly defined, documented and communicated.  OHSAS 18001 makes this a requirement in section 4.4.1 of the standard.  But that is not all that is required.  OHSAS 18001:2007 also requires that the organization “ensure that persons in the workplace take responsibility for aspects of OH&S over which they have control, including adherence to the organization’s applicable OH&S requirements.”

In a previous blog, I outlined the differences between responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities. 

It is important that an organization appropriately address all three.  When I work with companies to help them establish OH&S management systems, they often need to take a serious look at the accountabilities that are — and are not — in place.

Serious OH&S problems occur when authority, responsibility and accountability are not linked.  This occurs when:

  • An organization does not give employees the authority to address safety issues but holds them accountable when something goes wrong.
  • The organization assigns responsibilities but does not communicate them.
  • An organization establishes responsibilities but not accountabilities.

The most common example of this “disconnect” is when widespread violations of safety rules are ignored…until someone is seriously injured.  Then the worker who is injured is blamed, perhaps fired, but the culture of ignoring safety rules continues.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2007)

Category: OHSMS Implementation

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