Generative HSE
Safety beliefs, standards, leadership & performance


Is there a difference between safety accountability and responsibility?

I’ll often hear people talking about safety at work and in the same sentence interchangeably using the terms safety accountability and safety responsibility.  In many cases it’s a misleading use of words and creates unnecessary confusion amongst people at work. 

Let’s start with the case where responsibility and accountability applies to all. Clearly under WHS legislation all people, irrespective of whether they are an employee, a manager or a contractor are responsible for identifying workplace hazards, following all documented policies and procedures and stopping work if it’s unsafe. Put bluntly there is no room for deciding not to follow a safety procedure or rule nor electing to follow a creative short cut. Even if you are uncertain about the safety rule you are still responsible for finding out what’s required.


In this context we can say then all people are personally accountable for operating within the agreed safety boundaries and expectations. This form of accountability finds its true meaning when it comes to a safety leader ensuring there is a just and fair response following a breach. In other words there is a transparent process of consequence management, which takes into account the nature of the error. The question to be asked was the error intended or untended and the honest answer to this question set within a clear just and fair framework will drive very different responses. To this extent everyone exercises a safety accountability. 

But when it comes to the recognised safety leader it is a different starting place. The safety leader is accountable for their team’s safety performance. You might be wondering how is this so? There is one only reason and the answer lies in how safety authority is given and understood. The safety leader is accountable for their team’s safety performance as they are the person who ultimately decides what hard and soft resources are allocated to a job, how the work is prioritised, when and how people are trained and they are the final decision maker for stopping an unsafe job. 

All too often organisations stymie a person’s safety accountabilities and ultimately the team’s safety performance by not vesting adequate authority in the leader. So how clear are you on your safety accountabilities and responsibilities and more importantly how well are you exercising both?

Safety Boot Camp helps safety leaders not only understand what’s required in this space but also what how leaders can exercise their safety accountabilities for the betterment of their teams. Why not come along to a Safety BootCamp and find out more.