Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the words compliance and safety are often used together when discussing OH&S (HSE) systems. And honestly, they should be. However, is there a concrete answer to which is more important?

Compliance vs Safety: which one should your business be using to keep your workers safe in the workplace? This question has been the centre of many debates in the last decade. And in all fairness, both compliance based and risk based systems have merit. Almost every employer would likely agree that either system is better than no system at all. It’s very similar to the old adage what’s better “efficient or effective”.

But is there a clear answer as to which system reigns superior? Let’s talk it out.

Safety Speaks

The focus is on safety, right? Well, not necessarily.

Offering your workers the safest workplace possible is one of the best ways of showing them that you care. Going above and beyond the regulations and standards to identify hazards that could be unique to your environment demonstrates that you are committed to your workers and their wellbeing, and that safety isn’t just a set of rules set by someone in an office. And while it is probably going to be a little more work, it’s also likely to be very rewarding.

Safety based systems, also often called risk management systems, rely on making sure that hazards are identified quickly and that effective controls are put in place to mitigate the hazard before an incident occurs. Again, not such a bad philosophy – very effective. But here’s the catch...identifying risks is great, as long as you can ensure that everyone is aware of the hazards and how to mitigate them.

And how can you manage that? You guessed it...compliance.

Compliance, who?

Compliance, for our purposes, is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “conformity in fulfilling official requirements”. In this case, ‘official requirements’ would be the CCOHS or OSHA standards that your company is required to meet. However, now you have the question “do the regulations that you are supposed to be compliant with make sense for your circumstances and keep your employees safe?”.

Standards and regulations have often been referred to as being the “bare minimum” of health and safety. This might surprise you, or it might not. And this means different things to different employers. The reason they are sometimes described this way is that they only cover the common health and safety hazards seen in their respective industries. You see, most of the regulations that companies are required to comply with cover a broad range and are generic – very efficient. Sure, they can be specific to certain industries, but can you imagine how much time and effort it would be for these governing bodies to create a different standard for every individual worksite in its jurisdiction? It would be impossible! It’s much easier to create one standard requiring all workers on 1,000 construction sites to wear a standardized hard hat, or wear fall protection when working at heights of 6 feet or more.

In most cases, this is where employer policies and procedures come into play. They are meant to be more specific to their individual work places than those coming from OSHA and CCOHS. That being said, it is only effective if everyone is aware of them and makes the conscious decision to follow them.

One thing that compliance systems do very well is demonstrate that your company understands the safety regulations in place and how to mitigate hazards accordingly. By tracking company compliance, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and is aware of how they contribute to the overall safety of the company.

Have your cake and eat it, too

So where does that leave us? Remember what we said at the very beginning? Safety and compliance are like peanut butter and jelly. Individually, they do serve a purpose. They can result in delightful safety cookies, and terrific compliance tarts. But nothing compares to what happens when you spread an even amount of each across your organization, sandwich them together, and get a taste of an effective and efficient safety culture that everyone in the company will benefit from.

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