Safety Leadership - Discipline – yes or no?

September 13, 2018

Nancy _headshot


WorkSafeNB’s Nancy Boutcher, assistant director of safety leadership, takes a moment to reflect on bridging the gap between health and safety compliance and a positive safety culture.


Here we are again, nearing the end of summer. If you’ve followed along with my thoughts from previous stories on creating safe and supportive workplaces, you’ll recall that we’ve talked about the importance of leaders in creating supportive and safe work environments.  I hope that my last stories have inspired you to start thinking about how to develop and maintain trust with your teams and how to give specific and positive feedback to drive the behaviours that you’re looking for.

Today, I’m talking about discipline. Just seeing that word on the screen feels so negative, so opposite to my previous stories. If you’re thinking “But Nancy, how does discipline, a term associated with negative reinforcement and punishment, fit in?” you are not alone. We get asked regularly about whether discipline is an effective way of stopping risky workplace behaviour.   

Here is my view.

There is a place for discipline. However, it can be done right and it can be done poorly. The same goes for recognition, but that’s the topic for next time! Imagine for a minute if you have a supervisor you do not trust –how well do you think you’d receive any type of correction, reprimand, or discipline from them? Likely, not very well.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when considering discipline in the workplace to address at-risk behaviour.


  • Be very clear about which behaviours will have disciplinary consequences.

Usually these are behaviours that are high-risk for serious injury. For example, not locking out a machine, not wearing fall protection, or being violent toward a co-worker. Some organizations call these behaviours lifesaving behaviours, or zero tolerance behaviour.


  • Be very clear about what those consequences are.

Everyone needs to know that performing the risky behaviour will result in a specific consequence.


  •  Be consistent in the application of the discipline.

Everyone must know that the consequence will occur NO MATTER WHAT – for any person, at any level of the organization regardless of if they were having a bad day, or forgot, or had never done it before.


  •  Be sure employees are trained, supported, and have the tools to perform the job safely.

Safety leadership is about creating an environment where workers can easily perform their job tasks with the least amount of risk possible. We cannot discipline someone for taking risks when we haven’t provided them with the tools to do the task differently.


Excellent safety leaders know the critical behaviours needed to keep workers safe on the job, they are clear about safety expectations, and they are consistent in applying consequence when risk is taken.

Until next time!

Media Resources
Media Inquiries

E-News Sign-up

Catch up on the latest health and safety news.

Connect With Us

Call toll-free in Canada 1 800 999-9775
General Inquiries