The common problem with safety initiatives is that they often live and die in the safety department, with little wide-spread company involvement. After all, the belief is that safety is the safety department’s job.
This might seem reasonable when considering that many aspects of safety—like using the hierarchy of controls to ensure hazards have been minimized or eliminated—don’t really translate to the rest of the company. The same is true for issues of quality that use tools specific to ensuring that products meet various required standards. But there are aspects of safety and quality—like managing people, employee engagement or communication—that are more universal and shouldn’t be kept in one department.
However, this perception that safety is somehow separate and keeping it disconnected from the rest of the organization is why so many initiatives fail, prompting the leadership to search for a new safety program in the hopes of seeing better results.
Lack of wide-spread and long-term support in implementing safety programs doesn’t only affect injury rates, it also prevents growth. It might not be obvious to some organizations, but if safety initiatives are implemented with the right approach, they can become operational excellence programs that positively impact production, quality and performance.
Safety is not a separate issue
In many cases, safety is treated as a necessary—but separate—issue from the organizational growth because it can be hard to see the connection between productivity, safety, and systems. But the truth is that individual worker safety and organizational systems are intertwined.
The most important part of this equation is the fact that human factors affect safety because, quite simply, safety relies on worker behavior in safety. But human factors also affect everything else workers do, impacting quality, production, and service—forming the link between silos, strategies and corporate initiatives.
An article in the Safety Decisions Magazine said it best, “Safety and productivity are so closely linked because they operate on the same principles. The risk of injury is lowest when workers are paying attention to the task at hand and following a safety process to the letter. And productivity is at its peak when employees are focused on what they’re doing and avoid deviating from the work process. In this regard, safety and operations both traffic in attention. So it makes sense that the fates of the two functions are intertwined.”
In other words, an unexpected order can cause workers to rush and, therefore, make an unintentional mistake that leads to an injury or wasted materials. This seems obvious enough, but this cause-and-effect chain is also true for positive outcomes: a safe approach to a task can make workers be more careful and thorough, leading to fewer errors, less wastage and no need for rework. But this depends on the workers’ dedication to safety and their understanding of human factors.
Understanding and using the connection
It’s important for workers to know how their mental and physical states can affect their safety and for managers to realize how that then influences performance. Safety is a framework that encompasses the whole organization and affects all the relevant performance indicators. Seeing it this way can help the whole company come together in support of the safety initiative.
In fact, according to another article, the relationship between safety and performance was shown clearly when “Researchers investigated the stock market performance of 31 companies that were known for adopting high safety standards throughout their organization. They found that from 2001-2014, the companies’ stocks performed better than the S&P average in all 17 measures under examination.”
Start with safety
Many companies chant “safety first” as their operational motto day-to-day but often prioritize production investments and quality processes development to remain competitive or meet growing demand. Whether it’s installing new equipment to increase capacity or train people on the latest ways to improve quality, these choices ignore important attributes inherent in safety initiatives such as meaning, care and motivation. But these attributes can naturally foster the transfer of applied human factor skills and understanding across all organizational functions.
Safety initiatives offer companies directional efficiency because they can penetrate hearts and minds. And a focus on human factor skills also adds hands-on capability that can naturally spill over into other areas of employees’ work and personal lives.
Although the link between safety and organizational excellence might not be obvious at first glance, it is clearly present. And supporting a safety initiative in a way that makes the program an integral part of the company throughout all of its departments can translate safe behaviors into more productive actions, positively affecting the whole organization and its performance.