Staying safe at work sounds like a simple enough goal. No worker wants to work in an unsafe environment and no administrator or elected official wants to spend time and resources investigating preventable incidents. The potential for workers’ compensation or third-party liability claims arising from unsafe activities are considerable, when, unsafe incidents occur. People get hurt property is damaged and productivity is impaired, adding to the negative impact from t events.
Often, incidents occur in spite our best efforts to adopt safety policies and satisfy training requirements. Safety culture is beyond policy and procedure, since it develops a lasting change in the organization. A culture of safety t reinforces a shared organizational commitment at all levels of the organization.
A good example is provided by Paul O’Neill, formerly of Alcoa. Mr. O’Neill took over as the CEO at Alcoa during an incredibly challenging time, when he stated: “I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can’t order people to change. So, I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”
He reinforced his commitment to developing a culture of safety in a now famous speech to Alcoa shareholders, he said: “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”
Despite initial resistance from the shareholders, O’Neill’s decision to prioritize safety over profits paid off. Sales increased, employee injuries declined, and net profits grew five-fold over his twelve-year tenure as CEO.
There are several steps we can take to better reinforce a safety culture within our own organizations. While not an exhaustive list, these seven areas are a great place to start:
As we work to improve the safety culture within our organizations, safety will become a habit. Productivity improves with a decrease in incidents, employee moral rises, and our public image is enhanced.