Safety is one of the most important aspects in business. It is about people. You can tell a lot about a business by looking at their safety performance. It tells you how much value is placed on people, employee involvement and whether details get attention. Because it is such a foundational element, if safety performance is not good, performance in many other areas tends to lag. Not surprisingly, companies that focus on it as part of their culture tend to have a whole host of positive outcomes that follow low incidence rates. In this article, I’ll cover four reasons you should care about safety.
It is not okay for people to get hurt
The culture of an organization sets the tone for what is acceptable behavior and what is important. With safety, the topic is fairly straightforward. Is it ok for people to get hurt or not? Trying to distinguish between the type of injury that people experience as okay or not becomes a slippery slope. As a leader, the tone you set around whether you value your people and their welfare sends a strong message. Setting the tone includes posting safety results, making sure training happens, talking about and recognizing safety performance, and ensuring equipment is properly outfitted with safety features. The first step toward creating a culture of safety is to say that it is not okay for people to get hurt. Not a cut, not a strain, nothing. If you value your people, it’s not okay for them to get hurt.
Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Through the course of my career, I’ve seen severe injuries from things as simple as someone attempting to sit on a chair and missing it. In another case, a former co-worker was working in a trailer on an industrial site when an explosion occurred, killing him instantly. Another co-worker lost a limb from an industrial incident at a prior employer. Injuries can happen anywhere. In some cases, they are behavioral, in other cases they are work processes, and in others, they are a function of safety features on the equipment. It takes everyone participating and owning safety to create the culture and keep people safe.
A culture of safety at work translates to safety at home
Once a culture of safety starts to take hold, you will see it reflected in how people talk about what they did at home. People start talking about how they used ladder safety when cleaning the gutters or hanging Christmas lights. They will wear safety glasses while mowing and edging the lawn. Kitchen tools will be used in a safe manner. Many of the stories will come with an acknowledgement that by being focused on safety, some incident was avoided.
It is a mutually-beneficial relationship. People are avoiding injuries at home, thereby increasing their overall wellness and satisfaction because they know their new focus on safety is improving their lives. At the same time, absenteeism is reduced.
Product quality and productivity are correlated with safety performance
According to a study published in the Journal of SH&E in the spring of 2007, there is a link between safety performance and product quality and productivity, along with rework and scrap. It debunks the myth that taking safety measures slows down productivity – a typical excuse for not undertaking a holistic safety program.
The study goes on to highlight that the principles that are foundational in total quality management are the same principles in safety. People that do not feel safe will not perform their jobs well. It further explains that employee involvement in making process improvements goes hand in hand with making safety improvements.
The study demonstrates that investment in safety translates more broadly to an overall decrease operating costs, something that may be counterintuitive to some. It cautions against taking cost-cutting measures that impact safety as they may end up being more costly in the long run.
Financial performance is highly correlated with safety performance
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published in September 2013 included a study of companies that are highly regarded through awards for workplace health and safety. It found that companies that create a culture of health and safety yield greater value for their investors. These were all publicly traded companies that were tracked from a stock perspective against the performance of the S&P 500. The study found that companies that invest in their people through safety and health programs also tend to manage other aspects of their business well.
A separate study conducted in British Columbia noted on OHSA’s website indicated that small businesses that fail within the first year had a significantly higher injury rate (almost three times) than those that survive past five years.
It is clear that there is a link between safety and financial performance. Study after study shows the correlation between investment in safety programs and return on investment for those programs. The commonality across all of these studies is: people matter, details are managed and results are tracked.
Call to action
Understanding the performance of a business can be as simple as understanding safety performance. It tells you that the health and wellness of employees are regarded, whether employee input and participation are valued and expected, whether there is alignment throughout the organization on culture and values, and whether people are paying attention to and managing the details. It is not a mistake that companies that do these things well have strong financial performance. What steps are you going to take to drive a culture of safety? The health and well-being of your people as well as the financial performance of your company depend on it.
This Tip of the Week was written by Heidi Pozzo, a strategy and performance improvement consultant. To contact her, visit www.heidipozzo.com or call 360.355.7862.