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Senior Executives Establish the Value of Employee Safety

You may doubt the following observation only if you have not, as I have, been in almost every possible business and industry in hundreds of organizations all over the world. My observation is as predictable as the accuracy of a Swiss watch. A safety management system’s injury-prevention performance is directly related to the value (or absence of value) senior management place on safety. An important question addressed here is how should senior management demonstrate their support for safety as a value?

Senior management perceives usually perceives they are demonstrating involvement and support for safety when they are “looking at the organization’s data.” Unfortunately, as impressive as data analysis and presentation technology has become, providing senior managers with a method for reviewing safety data in a few seconds undermines the creation of safety as an organizational value and promotes the misperception that management supports employee safety. 

Behavior Based Safety uniquely provides a database that summarizes safe behavior by work group, department, shift, tasks, behaviors, plant sites and much more. Subsequently, many companies emphasize the value of preparing a data “dashboard” that allows senior executives to see the rate of improvement in safe behavior across a multitude of measurement parameters on several sites. Glancing at summarized safety data is not safety activism – which is what we expect from senior executives that are passionate about continuous safety improvement.

Senior executives establish their passion for safety by talking about safety with all levels of management, asking questions about the data, supporting the priority of resolving safety related problems and the removal of safety barriers, and engineering changes to reduce potential injuries. They begin corporate meetings by reviewing safety information – often discussing accomplishments and improvement objectives at specific sites. They visit sites, talk to frontline employees about observation data, observe posted safety graphs, and often perform observations themselves. They attend behavior based safety steering committee meetings, safety committee meetings, and employee celebrations when safe behavior improvement objectives are reached.

Every employee knows that the things that senior managers and site managers review and talk about first and most often are the things that are most important to them. Weekly plant meetings held 30 years ago always began with production figures, followed by quality data, and then a review of the cost of waste and rework.  Safety was seldom mentioned unless there was a catastrophe. Bottom-line profit was king.

Today, we are in an era in which social responsibility, human safety, and the cost of injury have reached epic levels of customer interest. Stock holders are becoming more interested in those companies that protect profitability by protecting its most important asset – human capital.  The direct and indirect cost of human injury has been made public by OSHA many times and most companies now calculate those numbers for themselves. Safety is good business and adds profit to the bottom-line.

Senior managers are now quite aware that to minimize the cost of acquiring new customers and to preserve the customers they have - service, quality and employee safety are key components. International data assures us that companies that implement behavior based safety successfully – using positive feedback and recognition for increased rates of safe behavior – builds employees who are more completely engaged in their organizations than companies that have no proactive injury prevention.

All of this works well if senior managers lead the way. They must conspicuously engage themselves in serious discussions with every level of employee about every phase of behavior based safety. Safety leadership is not based on reviewing data summaries conveniently organized; safety leadership is about behaving in ways that convinces all employees that safety is a passion and a value expressed by those who represent and establish the organizations values.