Organizations That Discourage Dissent Likely to Have Increased Safety Risks


Des Plaines, Ill, March 25, 2013 – One of the greatest risks to worker safety in today’s business climate is the silence of its employees, according to The Dissenting Voice – Key Factors, Professional Risks and Value Add, a peer-reviewed feature in the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Professional Safety April issue.

The article examines how different organizational structures can affect commitment to occupational safety. Organizations known as the Hierarchical Bureaucratic Organization, that have a top-down authoritarian structure, and typically reward conformity, are often indifferent to employees and do not look favorably on creativity or dissent. This work environment can be difficult for a safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professional, who in an attempt to advance a compliance mentality, may be viewed as a dissenter when pointing out an area of poor performance, or an elevated risk.

“Any safety person has been placed in a situation where you have to say ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is right,’” explained the article’s writer, Dave Rebbitt, CRSP, CHSC, who added that in a Hierarchical Bureaucratic Organization, when a dissenter goes public, the only real defense a company has is to discredit this individual.

To the contrary, an organization that uses a Dual Authority Matrix Structure tends to embrace dissent, and see it as a way to maintain corporate integrity. They also enjoy better safety performance.

According to Rebbitt’s article, an empowered employee is exposed to far less risk than a worker in an organization that doesn’t tolerate non-conformity.

Safety professionals know that they are always under pressure to show they deliver value to their employer. Working for an organization that embraces dissent, will give an SH&E professional a greater opportunity to demonstrate their value.

In addition, SH&E professionals must learn the power of influence and persuasion, in order to effectively be the voice of dissent.

“It’s really hard to sound the alarm,” explains Rebbitt. “How and when is as important as what you have to say.”

Rebbitt is the corporate HSE manager at Voice Construction in Edmonton, Alberta. During his career he has held senior management positions with various companies. He holds an M.B.A. from Athabasca University, and is a professional international member of ASSE.

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