A World Without Whistleblowers

Whistleblower.  The word often carries with it the stigma of a tattle-tale from childhood.  Few children liked those who tattled as they might eventually tell on them.  Although there is often a negative carry-over effect from childhood to the whistle-blower, the whistleblower’s tale is much more serious in that some wrongdoing has occurred or that dangerous or unhealthy conditions have been allowed to exist, despite efforts to correct them.

The fact that there are whistlebolwers at all is a telltale sign that leadership is either corrupt or punishes those who call attention to operational irregularities and unsafe conditions. While many  whistle-blowing incidents go unreported, there can be significant consequences associated with whether or not someone blows the whistle—many of which affect the safety of workers and/or the American public. Recent events include the Upper Big Branch mining accident in West Virginia, the BP Oil Spill, and, most recently, the GlaxoSmithKline product contamination settlement (which did in fact earn one whistleblower $750M). These events shouldn’t raise the question whether or not to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, they should force us to ask the real question, “Why don’t organizations create the kind of culture that doesn’t need whistleblowers?”

In our just released book, Safe by Accident? Take the Luck out of Safety - Leadership Practices that Build a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew and I take a focused look at safety leadership and how to create an organization where all employees are empowered and positively reinforced for calling attention to variations in organizational practices and conditions that put employees and the organization at risk. Organizations that create workplaces where employees feel safe to report problems will find that they are safe by design - no whistleblowers necessary.

We highly recommend Safe by Accident?  for anyone in a leadership role with the ability to influence safety performance.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.