- Despite the proven value of a safe workplace, traditional approaches assume a siloed safety department.
- Progressive facilities that view safety as a corporate value rather than a corporate responsibility can transform employee morale and even the business’ profitability.
- It is important to look at safety through a different lens, transforming it from a compartmentalized function to an all-employee responsibility that permeates the entire plant.
Poor safety practices can lead to increased injuries, high workers’ compensation costs and insurance rates, and even significant fines. However, progressive facilities that view safety as a corporate value rather than a corporate responsibility can transform employee morale and even the business’ profitability. For instance, a 2012 study co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Toffel, Professor David Levine of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Boston University doctoral student Matthew Johnson, examined workplace safety inspections conducted by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). The study found injury claims were reduced by 9.4% and 26% was saved on workers' compensation costs in the four years following inspections at workplaces in high-hazard industries in California, compared to a similar set of uninspected workplaces. The study was published in the May 18, 2012, edition of Science.
Figure 1. When implemented properly, safety programs can actually support bottom-line outcomes.
While some companies look at safety as an obstacle to business success, when implemented properly, Kimberly-Clark has found it can actually support bottom-line outcomes (Figure 1).
Despite the proven value of a safe workplace, traditional approaches assume a siloed safety department. The safety team has the sole responsibility to mitigate the risks by taking on the many tasks required to do the job, from training and documenting to counseling, policing, and auditing.
Often, this can make the safety team feel like “compliance cops,” unempowered and overwhelmed by the workload, in some cases leading to confrontational relationships between the team and the employees. Worst of all, the actual safety performance of a facility can find an equilibrium that everyone begins to believe is the best that can be achieved at the site. Therefore, facilities that do not continuously strive for safety excellence can fail to protect employees.
It is important to look at safety through a different lens, transforming it from a compartmentalized function to an all-employee responsibility that permeates the entire plant. This can help to maximize a facility’s overall safety.
Protecting manufacturing workers is a particularly important issue, as this is the only industry sector to experience a recent increase in injuries. Notably, 4.4 manufacturing workers out of 100 experienced an on-the-job injury or illness, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This number is simply too high, particularly when many injuries are due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) use. For example, the BLS estimates 90% of eye injuries could have been prevented with proper use of protective eyewear. In plants today, a new safety approach involving all employees is needed to address these industry challenges. To build a safety culture that protects valued and highly trained employees, it’s critical to implement best practices.
Committed and inspired leadership
The leaders of an organization establish the company’s safety culture. Unless they have full buy-in, systematic safety changes cannot occur. To embrace safety, leaders must view it as a core value, rather than simply a priority that changes over time. It must be part of a company’s consistent and permanent belief system. A safety commitment can be manifested in many ways.
Clearly defined goals: Traditionally, some workplaces hold the prevailing attitude that accidents happen and are simply an inherent part of the manufacturing industry. However, it’s critical to believe an injury-free workplace is possible and be unwilling to accept injuries. Goals should be ambitious but clear-cut. One approach is to identify the safest area or plant in the organization and set a goal for the entire facility to benchmark successful protocols. Likewise, safe workplace practices should be part of every employee’s review, to demonstrate its importance and the need for accountability across the organization.
Open and highly visible communication: It’s critical to regularly speak about and drive safety messaging with employees. To ensure safety is highly valued at each facility, different employees should lead safety topic discussions at the beginning of recurring facility meetings. This will keep employees engaged and responsible for their own safety. Leadership can then also share production results or other safety goals.