Times of crisis show the true nature of a system. COVID is laying bare our culture of non-compliance and recklessness.
A report released today by the Canadian Armed Forces outlines a culture of wreckless non-compliance that led to many innocent deaths in Ontario aged persons homes. This is a symptom of a broken system that Canada has refused to address over the past decades. According to Global News, the report outlines how,
“Military personnel sent to nursing homes in Ontario have observed shocking conditions, including “blatant disregard” for infection control measures, mistreatment of residents and a level of care described as “horrible,””
And how “Staff at a Brampton nursing home allegedly recorded a Taylor Swift Dance Video showing them dancing through the facility, passing between areas deemed COVID-19 positive and negative without wearing any protective equipment, the documents claimed.”
This crisis lays bare our lack of readiness for a public health and hygiene challenge. Our medical inventories were under-stocked, our staff were untrained and vulnerable people were not protected.
Compliance is a Daily Habit
Habits determine outcomes. In the case of Canada, we have never taken compliance to laws, regulations and standards very seriously. Our government levies minimal fines on companies and few to any people ever go to jail for negligence, fraud or harm done to workers or the environment. We have a long standing culture of relaxed behaviour in the face of rules and regulations.
This cuts across the financial industry which levies little to no fines to the railways that continue to have spills and issues even after Lac Megantic, which killed 47 people in 2013. Just yesterday, Montreal investigators outlined how a sewage removal company has been dumping waste illegally for years. This investigation comes on the heels of another one last year that outlined waste disposal companies that were dumping waste in farmlands around Montreal. This in addition to the international scandal of Canadian waste being shipped illegally to poor countries. The list goes on.
Changing a culture is hard, but COVID is clearly demonstrating that it is essential. Canada must start by investing authorities with the power to regularly inspect and levy fines. We must also increase the fines, which in many cases are so small as to cause little worry to business or organisations across Canada. We can also deploy carrots to help encourage compliance, but the loss of contracts and money is the main driver for businesses to improve.
The reality is that businesses must be forced to engage in continuous compliance, meaning they need to have a clear portrait of their obligations and link them to their policies and procedures. You cannot solve compliance with a periodic audit and inspection. There is too much staff turnover, too many variables and too many priorities to do an audit annually and then expect ongoing compliance. You need to identify your obligations, outline your actions and conduct high frequency audits that find issues and correct them rapidly, helping form the company culture.
Some high risk industries such as pipelines are obliging companies to adopt management systems, but this should be extended to all businesses of a certain size and all businesses that receive government contracts. But the reality is that management systems can only take you so far, you need to create a compliance culture. It has been said that an action must be repeated 65 times for it to become a habit. If we want compliance to become a habit of our Canadian businesses and governments we need to put in place incentives that force CEOs, VPs, Managers, and Operators to engage in continuous compliance.