Most occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals would agree that there is an evolution underway in how we practice. Going back ten years or so, the predominance of thought leaders postulating that our compliance-based approach to developing workplace safety programs had run out of steam, so to speak, grew. This thinking was based upon a review of statistical data that showed a slowing in the reduction of fatalities and, in some cases, an increase in the number of serious injuries; those which result in permanent disability or lengthy periods of time off work. It also was not unusual for large organizations with deep pockets for OSH resources to end up with low or nonexistent incident rates of less serious injuries, but still experience multiple fatalities or catastrophic events in the same time frame. These awakenings resulted in an introspective review of the of the basic tenets upon which most OSH programs were based, and many OSH professionals concluded that the profession has been mistaken in believing that focusing efforts on the reducing in frequency of minor incidents would lead to a simultaneous reduction in the severity of them.
It is important to note that movement away from a reliance on compliance-based approaches does not mean ignoring the requirements of applicable laws and regulations. In fact, all OHSMS mention the need to comply. As noted below, OSH policies must mention compliance as a primary expectation. However, compliance is not intended to be the only focus nor is it intended to be the type of focus that obscures the systemic foundation needed for achieving continuous improvement.