A company's reputation, image, and brand are its most valuable assets. According to a Forbes article, a recent study suggests that 80% of employees aged 18 to 30 will leave a company if they believe it has poor ethics or a weak brand. These are profitable assets, as a company with a reputation for quality and safety can charge more than their competitors for similar products because customers perceive this extra cost as a reflection of superior product and service.

It becomes clear that having a strong and proactive occupational health and safety reputation matters when it comes to protecting and enhancing a business' brand image and value. In recognition of this, many companies are allocating a significant portion of their budgets to maintaining and enhancing corporate social responsibility.

Safety Management Programs: Traditional vs. Modern

Safety management programs measure a company's health and safety performance. How safety professionals aim to improve those measures makes a big difference to workplace safety (find out what 2 Things to Consider When Measuring Your Company's Health and Safety Performance).

The traditional safety management perspective aimed at improving health and safety performance by taking steps such as:

  • Stopping unsafe events from happening
  • Preventing equipment breakdowns
  • Adding more rules and constraints to ensure workers act safely
  • Eliminating anything that might be deemed "unsafe" in order to protect the company from legal action (learn more about Keeping Workers Safe and Reducing Employer Liability)

As the field evolved, however, safety professionals soon began to realize that in addition to unsafe equipment and work processes, human factors are also major contributors to workplace safety. In light of this, a newer approach to workplace safety emerged that took into account employees' attitudes and perceptions toward safety. As a result, safety professionals now tend to focus on:

  • Promoting safety as a value and facilitating safety performance within work groups
  • Understanding that failure is unintentional, and could be a consequence of how the organization or its safety systems function
  • Coaching and mentoring to motivate employees with the objective of managing imperfections, variability, and uncertainty
  • Creating an environment that cultivates a culture of safety as an expectation

Building Organizational Performance

Employing a large workforce with strong capabilities, as well as designing the work process to prevent workplace injuries and diseases, is evidently critical to workplace safety. And yet, no matter how well designed these measures may be, they still won't guarantee the health and safety of your employees.

Improving occupational health and safety requires more than relying on the workforce and well-designed processes; it requires organizational commitment. Organizations that place a high priority on safety experience fewer work-related accidents and injuries, since this will translate to a significant amount of organizational resources, such as time, training, personnel, and budget, to effect real change. Organizational commitment is also indicative of good management and effective leadership within the organization, both of which result in improved organizational performance.

All of this means that we need to turn the old notions of safety on their head. An organization committed to achieving a healthy and safe workplace improves its performance in doing so. The modern perspective on safety management programs sees the goal of safety as one that is aligned with all organizational goals—not in competition with them.

This relationship between safety and organizational performance means that:

  • Safety is a value that drives the organization’s mission
  • Safety values and goals will have a positive impact on production goals
  • Success is driven through the strength of engagement and trust throughout the organization (find out about The Importance of Employee Engagement and Its Impact on Your Bottom Line)
  • Safety enables management and workers to manage unexpected events and handle them with the knowledge and confidence required to mitigate risk and reduce harm

Sustainable Performance

For safety leaders, sustainability presents an opportunity to improve safety performance. If achieved, sustainability allows organizations not only to continue creating value for their customers and shareholders in an increasingly complex and volatile market, but also to add significant value to the communities in which the organization operates.

Given its importance, what can companies do to encourage sustainable performance? They can, among other things:

  • Promote a culture of learning and facilitate learning and good decision making
  • Understand and capitalize on adaptations
  • Establish a culture of psychological safety (see Managing Employee Burnout to Reduce Deadly Accidents to learn more)
  • Focus on the conditions of work

In contrast, some of the barriers to sustainable performance are:

  • Senior leaders giving safety a low priority or looking down on the safety department
  • A compliance mindset that seeks only to check boxes and meet the minimum safety requirements, which promotes complacency
  • Outdated views on the functioning of the workplace, such as Scientific Management or Theory X, that focus solely on productivity rather than employee well-being and motivation

6 Best Practices to Build Sustainable Performance

Many company leaders and safety professionals have recognized the importance of embedding sustainability into their organization’s culture. Now that you recognize it too, here are six simple but effective practices that any business leader or safety professional can undertake to build sustainable performance:

  • Engage workers by involving them in the safety program, letting them voice their concerns and ideas, and maintaining an open line of communication.
  • Learn from your workers. For example, learn about how their work is actually done. This will help you to understand the potential risks that may exist.
  • Share your experiences with your workers and encourage them to share their experiences with you as well. Not only will this build a sense of trust between leaders and employees, it will also show employees how committed management is to ensuring their safety and well-being in the workplace.
  • Figure out what is stopping you, as their leader, from finding out what is really happening in the workplace.
  • Ensure that all members of the safety staff are easily accessible. In some instances, employees can only access safety teams through management.
  • Develop a culture of psychological safety. Often, due to peer and management pressures, many employees fail to report hazards, risks, and unsafe working conditions (see Three Levels of Safety to find out more).

Occupational health and safety and sustainability are essential elements for successful business operations. Safety policies, in turn, lead to the development of health and safety management systems, which serve as indicators of organizational performance and sustainable development. Both, therefore, are interrelated and, without pursuing one strategy, the other cannot be developed. Companies who fail to realize this are likely to see their organizational performance fall or remain stagnant.

We invite you to review the webinar “How to create sustainable performance and achieve organizational goals through safetyby our EHSQ Community members Ron Gantt and Randy Cadieux.