Occupational Safety Is Sometimes Seen as a Killjoy Subject
Safety culture begins with management.
The Value of Value: The first steps to setting a good example
Occupational safety is sometimes seen as a killjoy subject or a necessary evil of business. If we don’t talk about it, I don’t have to feel guilty about it, right? Alongside much of Europe, the US is seen as a world leader in safety regulations, but yet 20% of top management still don’t provide active and visible support for occupational health and safety.
Why is there still indifference in regards to worker safety? Failure to promote safety procedures, or encourage a healthy safety culture, denotes a sense of “don’t worry, it won’t happen to us”. It is often just that one time that a worker breaches safety rules that a serious accident happens. Currently, there are 12 fatal injuries at work every day in the US.
Remember the golden rule, "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself"?
A senior employee and mentor once told me "Tell me what my boss cares about and I will tell you what I care about." His point was he will model his behaviour to meet his bosses values and expectations.
When empathetic managers value their employees, they value their safety. They understand the golden rule, regard all their employees as important and would not allow safety to be left up to chance. This perspective is crucial for a safe work environment, and is the first step towards a strong safety culture.
The Circle of Safety
When organizations invest in the wellbeing of staff, it strengthens the organization. We all have peers and groups we belong to. We take care of our family, team, department, or group – this is our circle of safety. Unsurprisingly, we tend to not trust people that don’t care about our wellbeing.
If management is not expressing this “circle of safety”, workers are likely to be affected. Without the knowledge that you are not only a valued employee but a valued person within your company, your loyalty and dedication to that business is likely to take a hit. Feeling unvalued can result in employees only caring about staying employed and getting their pay check at the end of the month.
Indifference takes the place of trust with managers and with workers. The irony of this is, worker engagement is one of the most important factors leading to business success.
Crisis of Engagement
Many surveys of successful companies have revealed that employee engagement is one of the most important measurements a company can possess that leads to growth and success. However, according to the Gallup organization, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work. We have a worldwide crisis of engagement.
Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share and realize:
- 41% fewer quality defects
- 48% fewer safety incidents
- 28% less shrinkage
- 65% less turnover (low-turnover organizations)
- 25% less turnover (high-turnover organizations)
- 37% less absenteeism
Worker health and safety is up to management
When employers care about workers and their safety, workers respond by becoming enthusiastic about what they do. They tackle work related issues with creativity, and they invest more energy in protecting the business.
Yet, safety is a two way street. We recently spoke to an EHS Manager out in Pakistan, who faced the challenge of employee ignorance towards safety rules. When workers don’t respect their own safety, what do you do? This manager recognized that changing worker attitudes towards safety was his responsibility as management, and the change had to start somewhere – at the top. He cited another simple life rule: set a good example. It can be simple as that!
Strong safety cultures are proof of value
Management teams that value their employees will work to create safety cultures. They will also reap all the rewards that come from loyal, engaged employees. As an EHS Manager, creating a safety culture and engraving safety awareness into employees and your management peers is your responsibility. Even more so if you are Safety Director, or any member who sits on the board. To demonstrate that you value your employees’ wellbeing, you need to take a pro-active approach – don’t wait for accidents to happen, take steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Your first actions could be implementing near-miss reporting, distributing monthly safety reports and aims, instigating a safety committee, or removing the embarrassment of reporting an incident by allowing anonymous submissions. Embarrassment is the #2 reason accidents go unreported, which is an issue easily addressed by a strong safety culture.
There’s still a lot of work to be done on eradicating the ‘humph’ that a mention of safety is often met with, but there’s plenty of evidence supporting the argument for OHS as integral in employee morale, productivity and efficiency.On top of that, studies into the ROI of safety have found that for every $1 a workplace spends on safety they save at least $3 in return, and fortunately safety around the world safety around the world is improving. improving. Safety is now even used by organizations as their differentiator in the marketplace.
Companies that care about employee’s wellbeing will enjoy the many benefits a loyal workforce can provide. A much more enjoyable and supportive work atmosphere leads to fewer accidents, and will produce the worker attitudes that help your organization to thrive. Valuing your employees really is a valuable thing.
Written by Murray Ferguson