Kevin Ian Schmidt

Be Aware of the Negative Aspects of Positive Reinforcement

There is little doubt that positive reinforcement is the most potent of all interpersonal tools available to anyone in a leadership position. Unfortunately, it is a tool that is the most misunderstood and most misused in the workplace. Infrequent use of this tool can defeat the intention and be perceived as negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement that takes place too long after the event is also regarded as negative reinforcement.

This means that it must be timely and it must be regular when deserved. People in leadership positions should know most about positive reinforcement because this is the only way that all aspects of their followers’ performance can be maximized. The more positive reinforcement that is applied, the more that behavior will be repeated. For example, it has been suggested that acts of terrorism are the consequences of positive reinforcement. Because journalists are quick to report the group that have taken responsibility for an act of terror and publish their names and photographs all over the news, they are inadvertently, reinforcing that behavior.

Check Out: How Effective Leaders Use Positive Reinforcement For the Greatest Effect

Some leaders have found that by making immediate and visible responses to complaints from their staff, the number of complaints has risen dramatically. This is a difficult situation to deal with because the complaints cannot be ignored and must be acted on. By the same token, it has to be clearly seen that positive reinforcement has the potential to create a constant stream of complaints which will lead to continual dissatisfaction. One of the ways of handling this situation is to create a “fix it” list. On this list, things to be fixed are prioritized. As soon as one item is fixed, another one can be added.

Another area where positive reinforcement can cause a problem is the fact that what is positively reinforcing to one person will not necessarily work with another. This means that trying to positively reinforce across an organization is fraught with danger and is unlikely to be successful because of the number of people who will be unhappy with it. Successful relationships will only develop when you know what each person wants and you, as the leader, can help that person to be successful. Over the years, many organizations have attempted to make positive changes that affect everybody without considering them as individuals.

The message for the leader is this, “People want to be recognized and reinforced as individuals for their individual effort and results. Anything less will not only have the potential to have a negative effect but also create resentment.”

How Effective Leaders Use Positive Reinforcement For the Greatest Effect

There has been a lot of research over the years to try and discover why some leaders are more effective than others. Unfortunately, the major part has been based on what leaders say they do rather than actually what they do.. One researcher who has devoted their time to what leaders actually do, is Dr. J Komaki.

What she discovered is that effective leaders and managers didn’t give positive reinforcement more frequently than the ineffective leaders and managers. But their timing was different. Whenever possible, the effective managers and leaders gave positive reinforcement while the people were doing the job. This meant that they spent a considerable amount of time in the workplace. In contrast, the ineffective leaders spent most of their time in their offices.

When you give reinforcement when the behavior is being performed, you know exactly what you are reinforcing. Further more, the person receiving the reinforcement is in no doubt of which behavior is being reinforced. Most ineffective leaders don’t realize that reinforcement has got the definite shelf life. The longer the gap between the behavior and the reinforcement the less effective it is.

The effective leader also goes further. He or she knows that one of the greatest advantages of teamwork is that team members can provide an immediate reinforcement for each other. Leaders like this train their team members to give positive reinforcement at every opportunity. After all, the team members are in the best position to judge which behaviors deserve reinforcement.

Generally speaking, the amount of reinforcement that is given an organizations is tiny. Managers and leaders complain that often they give reinforcement but the behavior doesn’t change. Although most managers and leaders understand what reinforcement is and how it works, they are not aware of a frequent it has to develop high performing teams and effective organizations. To give an example, the median number of reinforcers given in the classroom is about six an hour.

Check Out: Making Behavior Change Stick Through Effective Change Leadership

When you think about the last time you tried to train somebody in a workplace task, just reflect on the number of positive reinforcers you actually used. Without over doing it, this can be a very effective addition to your leadership style and it can also make you more effective in the training and coaching role of a leader. When there are too few incidents of positive reinforcement research shows that it becomes a negative reinforcement. The best example of this can be seen in the effect of annual performance appraisals. Because the frequency is so low, there is no way that they can have any impact on organizational performance or individual behavior.


How Effective Leaders Discover What Each Person Needs For Positive Reinforcement

As a leader, you need to be able to identify the specific reinforcers that apply to your individual team members. Each of your followers will respond best to an individual mixture of reinforcers. In this respect, no two people are the same. To keep track of the reinforcers that apply to each person, it’s a good move to keep either notebook or a page on your computer so that you can remember and add more information. It is also wise to sit down with that person and check to make sure that the information that you have written down about the things that reinforce them are current and not being superseded by something else.

Because we are all different, it takes a little bit of time to collect the mixture of reinforcers that apply to each individual. As a leader, your positive reinforcement will be much more effective if it is directed to the very things that mean most to your followers. But you need to find out from them how to motivate them to apply their discretionary effort. Think about yourself and consider the things that you regard as positive reinforcement that will motivate you to use your own discretionary effort. Make a note and also think about what it would be like if these reinforcers were applied on a regular basis.

Check out: Be aware of the Negative Negative Aspects of Positive Reinforcement

The technique for discovering these reinforcers is basically one of listening and encouragement. For example, the discussion may follow these lines after the small talk has been dispensed with.

You “Tell me Jack what are the things in this job they give you a buzz? What do you get a kick out of?”

Jack “Well, it’s always good to finish a job knowing that it’s the best I can do.”

You “Tell me more”

Jack “When I’ve been working on something for a week or so, it’s good to see the back of the job and I get a great feeling of satisfaction when it passes all the inspections and goes out of the door. I know that I couldn’t have done it any better so gives me a good feeling.”

You “Is there anything else that gives you the same feeling of satisfaction?”

Jack “Not really the same but I do get a kick out of thinking about the jobs and working out ways of making it better or simpler or quicker. I don’t always mention things like this but it does make me feel good.”

From this very short discussion, you can see that there’s a couple of areas there that would be worthwhile noting down as reinforcers. Firstly, the satisfaction that Jack gets from the completion of the job and secondly, the satisfaction from working out better ways of doing the job. It would be very simple for the leader to go up to Jack at any time to discover and discuss what he had done to make his job easier.

Note that the person asking the questions spent most of the time listening, probably in the region of 90%. The questioner was using the technique of minimal responses which is a way of encouraging the speaker to continue to talk. The other techniques which can be used quite easily are, being comfortable with the silence and not rushing to fill the gap. Making good on contact with the out delivering an un-wavering stare. Using paraphrasing to confirm understanding. All these methods will make the job of discovering what to reinforce for each team member, relatively simple.

Check Out: 7 Secrets of Effective Leaders

Five Factors All Leaders Should Know About Positive Reinforcement

When you are in a leadership position the most powerful interpersonal tool available to you, is positive reinforcement. Regrettably, the whole concept of positive reinforcement has not received the attention it deserves from all the written literature that is published every year on leadership.

People in leadership positions are constantly reminded of the importance of profitability, reduction of waste, customer service and increase productivity. The link between positive reinforcement and profitability has never been emphasized strongly enough. The result is that many people in leadership positions are failing to use the most important resource at their fingertips to increase the bottom line.

The five factors are:

  1. Positive reinforcement should be tailor-made to the individual rather than applied as a blanket approach which creates unhappy people. There is no “one size fits all” approach that works because leaders are dealing with so many different people.
  2. As a tool, it should be applied only when it has been earned. There is no point providing benefits across the workforce if only some of them deserve it. Those that don’t deserve it will gradually reduce the effort that they put into their work because they are being reinforced for low performance. One of the worst things the business do is to give a percentage by increases regardless of performance. This means that poor performance is rewarded and it also fails to reinforce the top performers because they feel that a universal pay rise does not recognize their efforts.
  3. The application of positive reinforcement is not an event, it is a process. People will work at their very best, but they require positive, relevant reinforcement daily. To achieve maximum results it must be built into the work relationships and the work processes by the leader.
  4. The timing is critical. The closer you can make the reinforcement to the behavior that you are reinforcing, the more likely the behavior is to be repeated. The bigger the time gap, the less chance of this happening. The three conditions under which it works best are, it must be positive, it must be immediate and it must be certain.
  5. Without doubt, personal relationships produce the best reinforcement. This means that leadership behavior is the key to influencing the performance of followers. Every time there is an interaction between the leader and a follower, the link between their work and the overall objective can be of emphasized so they feel they are contributing to a greater goal. This gives them a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership of what they’re doing.

This is an extremely low-cost strategy but the return on the investment is very high and everybody who holds a leadership position should be aware of the power of positive reinforcement.

Making Behavior Change Stick Through Effective Change Leadership

The moment you understand the invisible elements that underpin human behavior, you position yourself to achieve performance results you never thought possible. Through a greatly effective and more universally accepted change leadership approach, you may never have to use command and control again to experience behavior change.


Whether you want to change your weight, change your relationship or change your company’s bottom line…it all comes down to human behavior.

You have no chance at sustaining improvements or changes in your business environment without first changing the underlying behavior and thinking patterns of the people involved. If you don’t address the behavior and thinking patters that created the existing situation in the first place, a time will come when you relax your regime of ‘change’ and everything will slip back to the way it was; back to the undesirable state.

See… the thinking and behavior patterns of your people are attuned to the status quo right now.

Take the example of a rubber band. To change the shape of the rubber band you could pull it and stretch it to a new shape. You could even hold it extended for a period of time in the shape you desire. But as soon as you let go it just snaps back into place, back into its original state. Your business is like this rubber band – it has an existing state that people are comfortable with. You can force these people into a new pattern of behavior but as soon as you relax your guard (which will happen sooner or later) they will begin to slip back into their old patterns.

It’s not your fault – suffice to say this is the greatest challenge business leaders face today; getting people to alter their behavior willingly and permanently.


The most common error in leadership is to focus on managing people’s actions and use the power of authority to get them to change.

This outdated ‘Industrial Age’ approach is practiced widely. It is a model that involves managers using authoritarian based command and control methods to coerce staff into greater productivity and higher-level performance.

Granted, this method of leadership does have its place. However, in today’s social and business environment, if this is the only style employed it will not work! Without addressing the invisible elements of behavior, you will never successfully create lasting change. When an employee’s source of motivation is compliance or obedience, managers must remain vigilant and continually monitor behavior. If they don’t, the desired behavior will not last. Imagine your managers having to monitor employee work continually in an already busy environment. They have less time; more stress; and (in my experience) they also suffer a decline in the quality of their personal life. The change only persists if the managers keep up the monitoring effort.

Today your employees have the power of CHOICE, so authoritarian based models of influence are not without risk. If that is the only style used, your best staff will simply move on to find a more positive working environment where they will be engaged and challenged, not commanded. All you’re left with is the dead wood.

One of the most important things I have learnt in the past three decades of work is this:

All shifts in business results are preceded by a permanent change in behavior. All permanent behavioral changes are preceded by a step change in thinking…a PARADIGM SHIFT!

This understanding is what has set us apart from most service providers in our industry. We don’t focus our business growth and improvement efforts on KPIs alone or just the technical aspects of behavior. We positively shift those things that drive behavior first.

And we do it this way!

Check Out: How Effective Leaders Use Positive Reinforcement For the Greatest Effect


The strength and effectiveness of Soarant Vision lies in our intimate knowledge of the 4 INVISIBLE ELEMENTS OF PERFORMANCE and how they can impact business at all levels.

Let me describe those four elements in this way.

The quality of the RESULT or OUTCOME you experience is determined by the quality of the actions or behaviors you engage in. Undertake the right behaviors and you create the desired outcome; it’s fundamentally as simple as that.

What determines the quality of the ACTIONS or BEHAVIORS you engage in?

Many people will think the answer is skill. I am here to tell you the quality of your actions and behaviors (within your potential performance range) is determined by the quality of your emotional state … yep, that’s right, determined by how you feel.

What determines whether your employee does or does not do something you want? Quite simply it’s determined by how they feel about it. Emotions drive all behavior; emotional state determines the quality of all behavior we engage in within a given range of performance potential.

To change the potential, you change the skill. To change the behavior, you must alter the emotional state.

Now… the final question. What determines the quality of one’s EMOTIONAL STATE?

I think we all know the answer to this one. The quality of one’s emotional state is determined by the quality of one’s THINKING and BELIEFS.


Through understanding how these Invisible Elements of Performance can be shifted, we’ve been able to consistently experience exception results in two areas:


Engaging people directly so they willingly shift their thinking and beliefs as a foundation to behavior change.

We put a ton of effort into this aspect of performance in our business execution workshops and leader development seminars. In fact, each seminar we deliver is designed to give people a set of skills and tools, but more importantly to have the right frames of reference and the vital sense of motivation to actually use the skills we teach.

Always remember… the thinking and motivational aspects of a new skill set can never be left unaddressed if you want people to use those skills.


Coaching and developing leaders who can utilize the power of influence and persuasion to create permanent change without the stress they are accustomed to.

It takes time to develop influence and persuasion skills to the point where they can be utilized without thinking in any situation, but it is well worth the effort.


I’ve found there are 3 scenarios for which leaders must develop these change leadership skills.

Scenario 1: Informally influencing others around you to engage in some new behavior or respond to your requests. This can be at home or at work, and even upwards, downwards and sideways.

Scenario 2: Leading a change initiative and guiding people through a roadmap of change that involves a specific sequence of steps from planning through to locking the change in.

Scenario 3: Formally presenting to audiences in order to influence their behavior and generate some specific response to a request. Audiences can be of any size and both known and unknown to the presenter. This scenario is often a precursor to scenario 2.

5 Rules of Workplace Safety Management

There are certain rules of human behavior that must be considered when developing a process of safety management. If you violate these rules, you will fail in your objective to develop a safer workplace. The rules themselves are simple, however, don’t be deceived because they have a great influence on human behavior.

Rules of Workplace Safety Managemet

  • Repetition: To get your message across it is necessary to use repetition. Repetition will ensure that your safety message is at the top of every employees’ consciousness. Safety management is a process not an event. One of the ways to create this consciousness about safety is to hold five-minute safety briefings at the beginning of each shift. This is very similar to a game plan which is discussed before a sports team takes the field. If you make the safety briefings relevant, interesting and valuable, you will find that staff members will contribute readily.
  • Consistency: The concept of consistency applies to many situations and has a profound effect on human behavior. We trust people who are consistent, we believe their message, in turn we will tend to be more trustworthy and consistent. Consistency is demonstrated. For example, if, at a safety briefing you mention that there will be no blame should an accident occur, the statement must be backed up by your behavior and the behavior of others in the event of an accident.
Check Out: How to Improve Your Safety Culture
  • Involvement: Involvement is the key to safety management. To gain control, you must give control. The people who are ideally situated to develop safe working practices are the people doing the job. This contrasts with the normal prescriptive safety management process where somebody, somewhere creates rules and regulations without the experience of doing the job. Every single person on any work site should be able to contribute to safe working practices. If you avoid this basic principle, you will find that the imposed “safe working practices” will be ignored.
  • Positive reinforcement: The number one tool in safety management is positive reinforcement. If you are serious about creating a safer workplace, make sure that you recognize safe behavior. Every day go on a mission to find people who are working safely and tell them that you have noticed what they are doing. This is harder than it sounds. Try it and find out for yourself. But remember, the results are well worth the effort. Catch your people doing it safely and they will continue to do it safely.
  • Common sense: It has been said that sense is not that common. This is relevant when considering workplace safety management. If the safety rules and regulations don’t pass the common sense of the people at risk, they will not comply. That’s why the involvement of the staff in safety management is so important.



10 Tips to Improve a Safety Management System

If you are looking to take your system to the next level, the following ten things will help you improve your safety management system and will help you with your journey:

  1. Defining safety roles and responsibilities for all levels of the organization. For example, ensuring that safety is a line management function and not part of the safety professional’s role.
  2. Developing upstream measures. Stop focusing on OSHA’s Total Case Incident Rate (TCIR) as a measurement. For example, document and track the number of reports of hazards/suggestions, number of committee projects/successes, number of related specific activities, etc.
  3. Ensure that management and supervisors are aligned with the vision, by establishing a shared-vision of safety goals and objectives vs. production, quality, etc.
  4. Implementing a process that holds managers and supervisors accountable for visibly being involved where they will set the proper example and leading a positive change for safety.
  5. Evaluating and rebuilding any incentives and disciplinary systems for safety, as necessary. For example, not basing the incentives and disciplinary system on the number of recordable injuries. Instead focus on specific activities that have been performed.
  6. Ensuring that all safety committees understand their roles and responsibilities, have a defined charter, and are functioning properly. For example all employees should know how to become a member of a committee, understand their responsibilities/functions, and authority.
  7. Providing multiple paths for employees to make suggestions, concerns, or problems. One such mechanism should use the chain of command and ensure that there are no repercussions against employees. The key is to track suggestions, concerns, and/or problems and hold supervisors and middle managers accountable for being responsive to all employee concerns.
  8. Developing a system that tracks and ensures that there is timely hazard correction. Many sites have been successful in building this in with an already existing work order system.
  9. Ensuring that there are methods for reporting injuries. Educate employees on the importance of reporting minor injuries and loss producing events. For example, first aid cases and any near misses.
  10. Evaluating and rebuilding the injury investigation system as necessary to ensure that investigations are conducted on a timely basis, complete, and effective. Ensure that each injury has an identified root cause. Avoid blaming employee for injuries. Take a look at the management system as a whole to see if there was a failure in the system.

As stated, if you are looking to take your safety management system to the next level, the listed ten items will help you with the needed improvement along your with your journey.

Some Myths and Truths About Safety Management

I’d like to introduce a few truths and dispel some myths I’ve come to discover in my nearly two decades of working in the safety management arena. Some of these you will know of and agree with and some you won’t know and/or agree with. Either way, the article will have served the purpose of opening up a conversation about safety excellence. Even if the conversation is just going on internally in your mind, it’s a worthwhile exercise to challenge what we believe is true. Because of the limited space for the article, let’s start with some of the most popular myths and truths:


  1. Excellence is Possible (and Highly Probable) – Perfection is NOT (and Highly Improbable)

Although it is highly popular in safety management to get our CEOs to sign off on a Zero goal commitment, it sets us up for inevitable failure. It is a much better plan to strive for excellence in creating safety than to expect perfection. Excellence is possible… perfect isn’t. There is a major problem with Zero Goals… they can be reached without being safe! See below.

  1. Passing a Safety Audit Doesn’t Prove That Your Company is Safe

Most, if not all, of the popular audit instruments were created by well-meaning groups of people and are not based on any scientific evidence. Now, most of the questions in these audits are likely to be positives to your company outcomes but let’s examine a typical example question.

“Does your company have a signed Health & Safety Policy?” Arguably a good way to communicate your company’s intentions regarding the management of H&S. Problem is, the score. What is it worth. What are other questions in the audit worth toward your passing mark? Have they been measured in a test using control companies? If the scientific method has not been used to validate the audit… we must admit that we are just guessing. Some very unsafe companies can and do pass audits. That being true, then this audit process is flawed. I’m not suggesting you abandon your audits… I am suggesting you read the results with a clear view of what the audit score may not be telling you about your safety management system.

Check Out: 10 Essential Components For a Safer Working Environment
  1. Doing Safety TO Your Employees and Contractors Give You Poor to Mediocre Results

As companies mature and strive for safety excellence, they almost universally realize that the model of “the few controlling the many” plateaus their safety results. Supervisors and managers cannot and should not take the place of full engagement of your employees (and contractors) in their own safety. When talking with those companies who have indeed reached safety excellence, they will all tell you that in their evolution to excellence, there came a point where they had to give it back to their employees. Doing safety with people has been proven to enhance your outcomes. People support what they had a hand in creating.


  1. When your employees tell you it’s a safe place to be… it’s safe

Given the opportunity to honestly provide feedback about a company’s safety process, workers are great sources of information. Usually done anonymously to reduce any feelings of reluctance because of perceived negative consequences, perception surveys are wonderful sources of information. Workers really know what is happening in your company. If it doesn’t match your company’s intentions, then there is a gap that is clearly an improvement opportunity.


  1. Low Injuries Rate Can (and often do) Mean Nothing as Proof of Safety

Measuring safety by the lack of injuries is just not valid. It is true that very safe companies have very few injuries… but it is also true that some very unsafe companies can and do work long periods of time without any injuries. This makes measuring safety by the lack of injury reports a very poor tool. What can be measured is the act of being safe. See the next point… Safety can be observed and measured.

  1. Safety can be observed and measured

There’s no need to count injuries or damage to prove the existence of safety in your organization. This can be easily done through discussions and actually observing the work place for behaviors and conditions. We call these observations “leading indicators”. They serve us well as predictors of success (and sometimes failure). Either way, these leading indicators can help us focus on what needs to continue to be done or to be altered if we are unhappy with the observations.

Check Out: Measuring Workplace Health and Safety Performance

Well there you have it, a few Myths and Truths about safety management. I hope that this article helps you to reflect a little on what we believe and why we believe those things. After all, what we believe helps to drive our behavior and our behavior is what helps to make ourselves and others safe.

Safety Training Is About Behavior Change

I remember only too well my first visit to a warehouse for a job interview. The bustle of the forklift traffic was considerable. Drivers were busily unloading and loading pallets of product into the long lines of waiting semi-tractor trucks. Numerous other employees were pulling and pushing hand trucks full of boxed product. This was one busy place. The natural question for me to ask as we continued our tour was, “Are your forklift operators trained?” I received the answer I was hoping for. “Oh yes of course!” My host continued to tell me, “We do it in-house and developed our own program and can’t drive the equipment here until they pass the test!”

On the surface, this looked and sounded wonderful. The company had recognized the considerable hazard untrained operators could create and had diligently attended to the hazard through a commonly accepted “administrative control” of a recognized hazard: operator training. As we proceeded from the loading dock into the storage area of the warehouse where three-story material racks were filled with palletized product, I was horrified to see that the base legs on nearly every one of the storage racks had been bent. The damage was seriously compromising the safety of the storage rack structure.

What this employer had failed to do was validate the behavior that they had hoped to accomplish with the forklift operator training. This is a common shortcoming of occupational health and safety related training. We set out the learning objectives and develop and deliver our safety courses.

On occasion, we even test the participants. Then many of us go on to the next safety issue if since our workers passed the knowledge test and demonstrated a level of competency at the time of the test that we’re now duly diligent and that they will forever more perform the tasks perfectly.

Really? By now we should all recognize that safe behaviors must be observed and re-enforced through positive feedback and, when necessary, the safe behavior coached.

How to make training “sticky”

For safety training to be “sticky” and result in safe behavior, we must take the often-overlooked step in training, which is validation. Case in point, Most Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) programs I’ve seen are great at imparting the basic information regarding chemical hazards and most are diligent enough to ensure that all our workers can pass a written or verbal test of the many symbols and terms used on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS). We fall short of the mark, however, by not actually observing them working safely with chemicals. This is, of course, the behavior we desire, isn’t it? Ask yourself: When do these workers receive their WHMIS cards announcing to any future employer and us that they are WHMIS trained? Usually they get that card after they have passed a test of the symbol knowledge. This is hardly enough to certify that they can work safely with chemical products.

Check Out: Making Behavior Change Stick Through Effective Change Leadership

Training and the safe behavior model

The behavior change model of training requires the following steps to be completed:

Establish the desired behaviors. Write a performance-based behavioral learning objective that describes the desired behavior; under what conditions the behavior will be demonstrated and finally, the standard that must be achieved to be considered successfully competent. For example:

“At the end of a six-hour in-class training session the student will be able to perform the following behaviors at the student’s regularly assigned workstation:

1) Transfer liquid chemicals without over exposure to the chemical;

2) Read and explain the contents of four randomly selected SDS’c including:

  1. a) What the entry routes are for the chemical;
  2. b) What personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear;
  3. c) Show knowledge of where the PPE is located;
  4. d) Wear the prescribed PPE properly…

I think you get the idea… We need to describe under what conditions the employee will be demonstrating the behavior or competency.

Finally, we must demand that the student demonstrate the new behavior to a determined level of competency. Once a student has demonstrated their ability to meet the criteria, we must then continue to support the new behavior with consistent observation and feedback.

Mager’s theory of behavioral objectives

There are many theories and approaches to writing learning objectives, however I find the Robert F. Mager model the easiest to teach. I recommend that you read his book, “Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction”.

Once the training needs are analyzed and the learning goals of the program are determined by establishing the desired future behavior, follow the steps of Mager’s approach.

Learning goals need to be broken into a subset of smaller tasks or learning objectives. By definition, a behavioral objective must have three components: behavior, condition and standard.

To learn more about Mager’s theory of behavioral objectives, check out this post at Convergence Training.

Validation is due diligence

Here’s where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Is the trained employee behaving to the trained standard? How would you know? By testing at the end of the course? Certainly, that would be an indication that the employee could do the behavior. The due diligence question that the courts will want to know is “Were they exhibiting the safe behavior and how did you know?”

Hazard Communication Plan Explained

More than 30 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards. There are an estimated 650,000 existing hazardous chemical products, and hundreds of new ones are being introduced annually. This poses a serious problem for exposed workers and their employers.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is now aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This update to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) will provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. This update will also help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals while providing cost savings for American businesses that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered under the hazard communication standard.

How does the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard effect your business? Well first let’s take a look at what OSHA sets as some standards.

The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) – 29 CFR 1910.1200 provides workers exposed to hazardous chemicals with the identities and hazards of those materials,


Hazard Communication Standard

spray-bottleIn order to ensure chemical safety in the workplace, information about the identities and hazards of the chemicals must be available and understandable to workers. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires the development and dissemination of such information:

  • All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.

So you read this and say to yourself, “I don’t deal in hazardous chemicals”. But if you have things like cleaning chemicals, that employees or the public can handle, then you need to comply with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. Employees need to be familiar with OSHA’s hazard communication standards to help save lives and avoid OSHA citations.


Purpose of the HAZCOM standard

The purpose of the HCS 2012 is to make sure that:

  1. the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are classified, and
  2. information about the classified hazards is transmitted to employers and employees.

Classifying the potential hazards of chemicals, and communicating information concerning hazards and appropriate protective measures to employees, may include:

  • hazard communication plandeveloping and maintaining a written hazard communication program
  • listing hazardous chemicals present
  • labeling containers of chemicals in the workplace
  • labeling containers of chemicals being shipped to other workplaces
  • preparing and distributing SDSs to employees and downstream employers
  • developing and implementing employee training programs

The HCS 2012 applies to any chemical which is known to be present in the workplace in such a manner that employees may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency.

Foreseeable emergency” means any potential occurrence such as, but not limited to, equipment failure, rupture of containers, or failure of control equipment which could result in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous chemical into the workplace.

The phrase “known to be present” is important. If a hazardous chemical is known to be present by the chemical manufacturer or the employer, it is covered by the standard.

Check Out: How to Read an SDS Sheet

This includes not using generic, unlabeled cleaners, or buying cleaners in bulk and putting them in unlabeled bottles. Using a marker on the bottle isn’t enough either.

“Hazardous chemical” means any chemical which is classified as a physical hazard or a health hazard, a simple asphyxiant, combustible dust, pyrophoric gas, or hazard not otherwise classified.

This includes chemicals to which employees may be exposed during normal operations or in a foreseeable emergency. This means that even though an employer was not responsible for the manufacture of the hazardous chemical, the employer has the responsibility for transmitting information about the hazardous chemical to his or her employees.


OSHA Definitions of Chemical Hazards

Do not think that the chemicals which apply to the rule are only those in liquid, gas or particulate form. But, the standard’s definition of “chemical” is much broader than that commonly used. According to the HCS, chemicals that apply may exist in one of many forms:

  • Dusts – are finely divided particles. Example – wood dust.
  • Fumes – are even smaller particles usually formed when solid metal is heated and vaporized, and then condenses as tiny particles.
  • Fibers – are similar to dusts but are of an elongated shape. Examples – asbestos and fiberglass.
  • Mists – are liquid droplets that have been sprayed into the atmosphere.
  • Vapors – are gases formed when liquid evaporates.
  • Gases – are substances that are normally airborne at room temperature. A vapor is the gaseous phase of a substance which is a normally a liquid or solid at room temperature.
  • Solids – such as metal, treated wood, plastic.
  • Liquids – the most common form in the workplace.

Chemical Effects

The effects chemicals have on the various organs of the human body depend on several important factors:

  1. The form of the chemical: Is the chemical a solid, liquid, or gas?
  2. The route of entry, or how the chemical contacts the body: is it ingested, inhaled, absorbed or injected?
  3. The dose, or amount, the body receives: How much chemical makes its way into the body?
  4. The toxicity: How poisonous is the chemical?

Routes of Entry

Another important task when assessing the workplace for chemical hazards is to determine the route(s) of entry the chemicals may take. If we know the route(s) of entry, we can then determine appropriate engineering, administrative, and PPE controls to eliminate or reduce the exposure. The four common routes of entry are:

  1. Ingestion: Do we eat or drink it?
  2. Inhalation: Do we breathe it in? This is the most common route of entry.
  3. Absorption: Does it pass through the skin, eyes or other membranes?
  4. Injection: Does it enter through a puncture or cut?
Check Out: Hazard Communication Standard Training for Supervisors

Employees, such as office workers or bank tellers who encounter hazardous chemicals only in non-routine, isolated instances are not covered. For example, an office worker who occasionally changes the toner in a copying machine would not be covered by the standard. However, an employee who operates a copying machine as part of her/his work duties would be covered by the HAZCOM Standard.

Do you have all SDS sheets and a chemical listing of chemicals onsite, that is available to all employees, not locked in a drawer in a back office. Online access is acceptable, as long as all employees know how to get it and have access to a computer.

Employer Responsibilities

SDSs may be kept at the primary workplace facility or online, as long as the employer can ensure employees have quick access to the information.

  • Employers must obtain a SDS from the chemical manufacturer or importer as soon as possible if the SDS is not provided with a shipment that has been labeled as a hazardous chemical.
  • Employers must maintain SDSs in their workplace and must ensure that they are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s).
  • Electronic access and other alternatives to maintaining paper copies of the SDS are permitted as long as no barriers to immediate employee access in each workplace are created by such options. Make sure employees know how to quickly access SDS information that is stored on computers or online.
  • Where employees must travel between workplaces during a workshift, i.e., their work is carried out at more than one geographical location, the SDSs may be kept at the primary workplace facility. In this situation, the employer must ensure that employees can immediately obtain the required information in an emergency.
  • Employees who work at more than one site during the work shift must be able to obtain SDS information immediately (within seconds) in an emergency.
  • SDSs may be kept at the primary workplace facility, as long as the employer has a representative available at all times to ensure ready access (within a few minutes) to this information. This is the only situation in which an employer is allowed to transmit hazard information via voice communication. The employer must address in the written hazard communication plan how SDS information will be conveyed to remote worksites.
  • SDSs may be kept in any form, including operating procedures, and may be designed to cover groups of hazardous chemicals in a work area where it may be more appropriate to address the hazards of a process rather than individual hazardous chemicals.

Have you conducted employee awareness training on how to read an SDS sheet?


Download and view a sample HAZCOM policy below; that can be adapted for your needs, but remember a small business owner might find a full and proper Hazard Communication Plan to be overwhelming to fully and properly design.



First Aid Training and Kit Requirements

Does your business have a first aid kit? Do you have people in your business trained to render first aid?  What are the requirements for first aid kits, first aid training, and such according to OSHA?


In the absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace which is used for the treatment of all injured employees, a person or persons shall be adequately trained to render first aid. Adequate first aid supplies shall be readily available.


Near Proximity for First Aid Responders

first-aidSo first let’s talk about what OSHA means by “near proximity”, because that can be vague. In a workplace, where employees may be exposed to hazards, like machinery or powered equipment, a response time over 3-4 minutes in considered “near proximity”, and for an office setting, “near proximity” is deemed 15 minutes. This comes from the OSHA Letter of Interpretation from March 2007.

So how does this effect your workplace if you are a retail establishment? Do you have any machines employees use, baggers, cardboard compactor, steamer, or anything else? Then you should probably hold your business to the standard for a 3-4 minute response time. This holds true for a restaurant, where an employee could burn themselves severely.

Now, factor in that the national average response time for an ambulance in most urban environments is 8 minutes or MORE, and you soon realize, you would be outside of the OSHA standards for near proximity and should have trained first aid responders on site.



First Aid Kit Requirements

first aid kitHaving a first aid kit in the workplace is just a good safety precaution, even if you feel you aren’t required to under OSHA guidelines. It can become confusing though, because the OSHA Regulation, simply says “Adequate first aid supplies shall be readily available.” What is deemed adequate? What supplies must you have?

In an OSHA Letter of Interpretation from April 2002, Richard E. Fairfax, Director: Directorate of [Enforcement] Programs for OSHA talks of how the ANSI standard Z308.1-1998 would be deemed adequate for most small workplaces, but you should also have suitable supplies for the risks in your workplace.

ANSI standard Z308.1-1998 supplies

ANSI/SEA Z308.1 2009 – Minimum Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits and Supplies Basic Kit – minimum contents.


Absorbent compress, 32 sq. in. 1
Adhesive bandages, 1 in. x 3 in. 16
Adhesive tape, 3/8 in. x 2.5 yd. total 1
Antibiotic treatment,0.14 fl. Oz. (0.9 g) 6
Antiseptic,0.14 fl. Oz. (0.5 g) application 10
Burn treatment, 1/32 oz. (0.9 g) application 6
First-aid guide 1
Medical exam gloves 2 pairs
Sterile pads, 3 in. x 3 in. 4
Triangular bandage, 40 in. x 40 in. 56 in. 1


first-aid-kit-unstockedThis amount would be sufficient for a small workplace, with 2-3 employees, and then increase the amount of supplies as you increase employees, and also consider having one basic kit of bandages in the front of the business and a larger more comprehensive amount of first aid supplies in the back office.

If you plan on keeping your medical cabinet locked up in a back office, consider this OSHA Letter of Interpretation from January 2007, which says it is ok to lock the medicine cabinet up, but it must be accessible during an emergency. So, be careful with locking it up, because if it isn’t accessible when needed, it can result in a worse injury, and potentially trigger an OSHA inspection.

It is also important to note that if you have a first aid kit, and it is poorly maintained, OSHA could find you in Willful noncompliance, which could dramatically increase your fines.


First Aid Training and Bloodborne Pathogens Requirements

bodily-fluid-cleanup-kitIf you determine your business is required to provide first aid training, know that OSHA has requirements for providing Bloodborne Pathogen training along with it, as clarified by this OSHA Letter of Interpretation from January 2007.

So what does that mean for your business? Well, OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard has specific rules as they relate to training, recordkeeping, and even offering Hepatitis B vaccinations.

Check Out: BloodBorne Pathogen Exposure Control Plan

One aspect of the Bloodborne Pathogen requirement that is often overlooked is a policy, written specifically that addresses workplace exposure risks, along with proper handling and cleanup of blood and other bodily fluids.

You also need the proper bloodborne pathogen cleanup kit, I you have bloodborne pathogen training for employees. Because like earlier, partially implementing a program or plan, could show OSHA you were aware of your requirements but didn’t follow through with them, and increase a citation to a Willful, and lead to much higher fines.





Guidelines for Investigation Interviews

Employee Investigation Interviews are set up to review claims made by employees regarding discrimination, harassment, violence, or other prohibited behaviors in the workplace.


The Investigation Interview Process

When you’re conducting employee investigation interviews, the interview process should be carefully planned, followed, and documented to help mitigate exposure to litigation. The sequence of interviews should generally start with the complainant, followed by the accused, and then any witnesses or other parties involved.

While there is no law mandating how quickly an investigation must begin, a good rule of thumb is to start the investigation within two business days of receiving the complaint. A prompt investigation will offer several advantages:

  • Memories are fresh.
  • Witnesses and other relevant parties will still be available.
  • Gossip or rumor mills are less likely to interfere with information.
  • Witnesses will less likely be tampered with or intimidated.
Check out my post Factors to consider in an investigative interview for more tips on the process


Take detailed notes during each interview. Make sure you are only documenting factual information and observable facts about the interviewee’s behavior and demeanor during the interview. Avoid assumptions or opinions about what is said or what you believe to have happened. Stay away from documenting subjective conclusions based on the interviewee’s behavior or demeanor during the interview. Notes should include the following:

  • Administrative details such as name, job title, and date of interview
  • Warning statements such as “keep information confidential,” “no retaliation,” etc.
  • Key factual points of the interview
  • Non-verbal expressions like tears, failure to look interviewer in the eye, and nervous affectations

Maintain all documentation related to the investigation in a separate, confidential file apart from the employees’ general personnel files. Limit access to investigation files to only those with a legitimate need to know.

Check Out: Effective Communication Skills – NONVERBAL

Questioning Techniques

Prepare questions in advance:

  • Ask who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Ask questions that require events be stated chronologically. This allows the investigator to compare different versions of the story.
  • Although you should plan your questions in advance, additional questions may arise based on the information you gather. Don’t limit yourself to the planned questions; ask follow-up questions to clarify.

Keep these few tips in mind when interviewing:

  • Begin with open-ended questions, then transition to more detailed, specific questions.
  • Avoid asking tough questions first; start with simpler questions to put the interviewee at ease.
  • Ask one question at a time and do not move on to the next question until you have all the information needed. Do not interrupt.
  • Ask for specific examples.
  • Remain neutral; don’t formulate an opinion before all the facts have been gathered.
Check Out: Effective Communication Skills – LISTENING

Interviewing the Complainant

When you begin the interview, state the purpose of the meeting and restate relevant company policy. Inform the complainant that the company takes all complaints seriously and will conduct a prompt and thorough investigation. Thank the complainant for bringing the matter to the company’s attention and assure the person the information will be confidential to the extent possible.

Ask for a full explanation of the situation. Ask specific questions such as:

  • What happened?
  • Who said what?
  • Where did the incident take place?
  • What time did it happen?
  • Who was present?

When concluding the interview, ask if there were other witnesses; document the response even if the complainant says no. Summarize the interview with the complainant and have the complainant confirm that it is accurate. Document the response to the confirmation question. Instruct the interviewee to provide any additional information that may not have been covered. Remind the interviewee that all information should be kept confidential. And last, but definitely not least, reiterate the no-retaliation policy, telling the interviewee to report any retaliation incidents.

Interviewing the Accused

When you start this interview, let the accused know that you are conducting an investigation of wrongdoing on behalf of the employer and that he/she is the subject of the investigation. Inform the individual of the accusations so the accused can respond and reiterate confidentiality and no-retaliation policies.

Ask the accused for a response to the allegations of wrongdoing; ask clarifying questions about who, what, where, when, and how the incident occurred. Ask if the accused understands the company policy regarding the situation. Also, ask if there is anyone who can corroborate the accused’s story.

When you conclude the interview, ask the accused if there were any witnesses. Summarize the account just provided and have the accused confirm the account is accurate as it was told. Ask the accused to report any additional information that comes to mind after the interview is over. And last, remind the accused of the confidentiality of the information provided and the no-retaliation company policy.

Interviewing the Witnesses

When you are ready to interview any witnesses, make sure you talk to each one individually. Explain the purpose of the interview and ask the witness for any information about the situation. At the end of the interview, remind witnesses of the confidentiality of the information provided and the no-retaliation policy.

When you conclude the interview, ask the witness if there is anyone else the interviewer should talk to; document the answer, even if it is no. Summarize the witness’s statement and confirm with the witness that it is accurate as reported.

Interviewing each person thoroughly and carefully in an employee investigation is critical to getting the facts – from all involved – correct. Remember, someone’s job or life could be adversely affected by the outcome of your investigation. Do your very best to conduct unbiased and clear interviews.


These investigation interview tips will help keep you sharp, but if you need professional assistance, or want to conduct a training for your staff, please feel free to contact me.