safety article
Selling Safety to Senior Management

By Kevin Burns  www.kevburns.com

Senior managers who only want to put in an appearance at safety meetings should just stay away. Senior managers can't just show up halfway through a safety meeting, glad-hand a bit and then leave in favour of a meeting that is supposedly "more important." If safety is not the most important meeting for senior managers, then it sends a terrible message to employees.

Safety is a philosophy of extremes: either you're fully vested or you're not. There is no middle ground in safety. There can't be. It's a simple choice: either you believe in safety or you don't. And putting in appearances at safety meetings and then flitting off to another meeting sends a message that undermines the purpose of the safety meeting in the first place. You can talk all you want about how safety is paramount in your organization, but when the employees see you show up for a few minutes and then leave, you look like a hypocrite.

Senior managers, if you're planning to use the safety meeting as a platform to elevate your "relate-ability" factor, you need to just stop. The meeting is not about you. It's not even about the company. Safety is about the employees - the people whose lives you employ - who go home to families that depend on them staying healthy.

Don't undermine the efforts of your safety people. They're already working their tails off trying to get employees to buy-in to safety. Get out of their way. They are, by the way, the same people that you have charged with delivering an excellent safety record and will hold them accountable if they don't. But what if it was a senior manager who got in the way? Then what?

Safety isn't something that can operate on the periphery of the company. Safety is not an add-on. You can't add safety to an existing culture and hope that you get your incident numbers down. No. Safety has to be a central tenet - a corporate value - or it will never work. When the safety culture operates on the periphery, people get hurt and it costs companies in morale, credibility and financially.

Senior managers must understand how safety impacts every single department of an organization. Here's how safety affects four major organizational departments:

  1. Finance - A recent Liberty Mutual poll of executives shows that for every dollar spent on direct costs related to an incident, there are another three to five dollars worth of indirect costs. That affects the bottom-line. But when companies make an investment in preventative safety, it pays dividends: for every dollar a company invested in workplace safety (from the same Mutual Liberty poll), they saved anywhere from $3.00 to $4.41. That's liquid cash direct to the bottom-line.
  2. Marketing/Sales - If your company has a lousy safety record, you are going to have to answer to a very angry sales department. Customers don't want to be associated with poor safety performers. They can't afford the hit to their reputation to be guilty by association. So they will just find other companies to work with instead. When you focus your whole company on safety, making sales is easy because customers are drawn to excellent performers.
  3. Human Resources - It's no secret that your current employees are your best recruiters. If your employees feel that you skimp on their safety or only give their safety lip-service, they will do nothing to encourage their networks to come work at your workplace. Employees don't want to look like idiots. Good luck attracting top talent to a company with a questionable safety culture. Good employees want to feel safe before they will recommend their workplace to others. If your company is a safety-underperformer, you will consistently turn-over your staff and be forced to hire the leftovers - those who haven't been already picked-up by companies with superior safety records.
  4. Operations - This is the department where people get the work done, and this is where company morale lives. If safety operations are inconsistent or you didn't act to prevent people from getting injured, corporate morale will nosedive. When that happens, you will notice the toilet-bowl syndrome take hold - spinning faster and faster, one incident after the next due to care and attention being impaired by low morale. Once the low morale takes hold, productivity drops, customer service falls apart and infighting and blame become prevalent. Then, people start looking for other jobs. 

Safety permeates the entire organization. Safety is not a photo-op. It's a make-or-break for every organization. And the eyes of the world are watching more intently - scrutinizing your every move. Get serious. The lives of your workers and the life of your organization both depend upon it.

Have a look at how the City of Calgary recognized that safety needs to become more of a focus for their office workers and why they chose me to address their people.

Related:

SafetyTalk: Teamwork and Culture, Three Ways to Encourage Safe Attitudes

kevin burns About the Author
Kevin Burns is a safety communications consultant and keynote speaker who works with employers to get buy-in on safety in their company culture.
www.kevburns.com

 

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