What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
Whistleblowers have always been a subject of controversy. A 2011 study, however, found that more than 38 percent of employees witness wrongdoing in the workplace and fail to report it due to the belief that nothing will be done. Having a whistleblower program in place encourages employees to come forward with their concerns, sets the tone that wrongdoing will not be tolerated, and demonstrates that the company is committed to taking action. A well managed and supported whistleblower program can reduce controversy and improve safety outcomes.
Before we discuss the safety benefits of a whistleblower program, let’s differentiate between internal and external whistleblowing:
- Internal whistleblowing refers to bringing wrongdoing at your own organization to the attention of superiors
- External whistleblowing is when an organization's illegal, immoral, illegitimate work is reported to someone outside the organization
An effective whistleblower program seeks to encourage internal whistleblowing so that issues can be resolved before they are brought to the attention of external parties. It shows the company’s commitment to a “speak up” culture that values employees and helps ease employee fears about losing their job if they say no to unsafe tasks or report unsafe or unethical behavior.
There are a variety of reasons that whistleblower programs are a good idea, but we’ll focus on the key safety benefits in this discussion.
Early reporting of problems allows companies to proactively identify and address unsafe employee behavior
Studies show that workers who fear retaliation for reporting dangerous misconduct at work are far more likely to file a report under the protection of a whistleblower program. Since the early reporting of concerns is essential for management to be able to proactively address safety risks, a whistleblower program helps achieve this end and creates a safer workplace for everyone.
Reporting unsafe work conditions reduces the risk of accidents and can save lives
Employees that are encouraged to be aware and responsive to their safety conditions have the potential to prevent accidents in the workplace just by speaking up about what they observe. For example, an employee may notice that his equipment is in desperate need of maintenance or repair, yet nothing is being done. A whistleblower program can encourage this employee to report his concerns, reducing the risk of injury due to equipment failure (learn more in How to Refuse Unsafe Work).
A “speak up” culture reaffirms that safety is everyone’s responsibility
In many companies, safety protocols and policies are mandated from the top down. An effective whistleblower program, however, helps foster a workplace culture where everyone is part of the safety solution. It can also open up lines of communication between employees and employers. Engaging and challenging employees to create a safer workplace means that everyone will be at the top of their game, and the likelihood of injuries, bullying, and unsafe behavior is diminished (more tips on establishing an effective culture in Implementing a Safety Culture: Speak Up For Safety).
It’s (almost always) a win-win situation
While these are some pretty compelling reasons to implement a whistleblower program, I must stress that these are benefits of an effective program. Far too often employers implement these programs without fostering a workplace culture that allows them to really work. While a whistleblower program might be in place, employees may still feel that they will be penalized for speaking up or that management will not take any action to remedy their concerns.
Employers who introduce a whistleblower program and truly open up communication with their employees will reap the benefits and be able to celebrate a safer work environment.
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