Safety Series, Part IV: That’s a Wrap!

This is the 4th and final installment of our multi-part series focusing on employee safety. This series has covered 5 key areas where improved safety performance impacts overall business performance and profitability.  The first week we hit the direct and indirect costs specifically related to a change in your organizations’ safety performance. That topic was all about dollars and cents, with lots of facts and statistics meant to sharpen your safety “sales pitch” for your discussions with the pragmatists in your company.  Week 2 showed how improvement in workplace conditions directly leads to a more efficient and less wasteful production environment. Week 3 was a dive deeper into how the communication and management muscles used hourly/daily/weekly at all levels of the organization for the safety improvement effort will seamlessly transition into all other areas of your business…and also addressed the use of select customer/supplier partners to assist you in the safety improvement effort driving enhanced revenue opportunities and supply chain efficiencies. This concluding article will quickly review how employee engagement and satisfaction increases with improved safety performance, and how this will enable and drive further operational improvement initiatives. Then we can wrap up and put a bow on this series in the hope I’ve provided you with enough ammunition to turn a “just the facts” dispassionate manager into an advocate for worker safety and improved workplace conditions.

I shy away from academic referencing in my work as I think that can feel a bit dry and not seem “real-world” enough to sway a true business pragmatist. But most everyone remembers some reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from high school or college classes—maybe basic psychology or management behavior or philosophy—or possibly from a self-improvement course. The premise of this hierarchy is that a person must first have their basic physiological (food, water, sleep, etc.) and safety/security needs met before they can learn/grow their more complex and essential needs such as psychological (relationships/friends) and self-fulfillment (achieving full potential and creative activities) needs. Business improvement, team building, training/development, goal setting, etc., all happen when your employees are operating at a higher level like that described in the top two sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and this is all built upwards after the foundational needs have been satisfied.

Maintaining the base for your team by meeting basic physiological needs can be accomplished by ensuring reasonable meal/break periods, access to hydration, proper temperature control in the workplace, and some form of very basic health/wellness information (this is often a free service from your health-care provider).

Then we come to our larger topic–the safety/security of your team. Everything covered in this series prepares you to build this essential foundation. My personal “coming of age” regarding safety was when I truly adopted a “safety first” mantra for the organization I led. This wasn’t an original phrase or concept by any means (in fact the header picture for the first 2 articles was of a Safety-First placard that I’ve seen posted in dozens of facilities), but once I actually internalized and started living by that mantra, we started laying that base layer or foundation upon which we could build a better and more substantial organization. Safety First. The first thing we talked about in meetings, the first KPI on any scoreboard, the first priority in every decision, etc. It was the base…the foundation…the cornerstone…the fundamental need that we deemed had to be met before we could start moving on to other tasks or improvement initiatives. I didn’t think of it in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy, nor did I ever use that terminology with my team. And you don’t need to either…but you do have to live and breathe safety and let your employees feel every day that their safety is a true fundamental for your company. Once this basic need is met then everyone can move on, engaging other parts of their hearts and minds, satisfied that the company has their back regarding their safety and well-being.

As this series progressed, I played to your skeptical side…whether that included your own skepticism or the possibility that you’re going to have to sell safety improvements up the org chart to a hard-nosed, hard numbers loving senior executive. You should be asking yourself “Does this pass the smell test?” or “I’ll know it when I see it.” “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck” …you get the idea. Whether you call it intuition, using your senses, or gut feeling, the idea of letting your previous experience guide your understanding of a current situation is important. You certainly have to assess the concrete facts, but your informed “sense” is a strong key. In all of my 35+ years of globe-trotting visiting many hundreds of companies throughout North America and Asia I’ve found one axiom to be universally true: It is possible to run a safe and organized operation that fails to deliver world-class results, but it is not possible to run a world class operation delivering great results without placing a high value on employee safety and workplace conditions. Re-read that previous sentence as it is truly the key to this entire series.

Not once have I walked the floor of a plant that posted poor safety results and was dirty, dark, disorganized, and filled with clutter, yet was delivering exceptional long-term operational and financial results. It simply doesn’t happen. You can argue chicken or egg until you’re blue in the face, but it simply doesn’t matter. Once you commit to leading a first-class operation you are fully committing to the safety of your employee teammates. And although it may take time to assemble the right team/skills/strategy necessary to achieve your financial and operational goals, you can get started on the safety initiatives today! And as we’ve discussed earlier any efforts you put forth in safety improvements will hone the necessary skills for larger-scale improvements.

In summary over the last month we’ve discussed:

  1. Real, measurable, bottom-line financial rewards for improved safety performance.
  2. How improving workplace conditions leads to further gains in efficiency and productivity.
  3. Management skills used for the safety improvement effort will seamlessly transition into all other areas of your business.
  4. The customer/supplier partners that assist you in the safety improvement effort can bring enhanced revenue opportunities and supply chain efficiencies.
  5. Great companies that deliver great operational and financial results are visibly committed to worker safety and workplace conditions.

That’s a pretty darned compelling list—and a pretty difficult list to argue against. Whether you’re a shareholder, machine operator, salesperson, accountant, board member, or CEO, don’t you want to be part of a great company that offers continued training, great operational metrics, exceptional financial results, etc.? And you get a better workplace that is safer for every employee to boot? How great is that?

I’ve had so much fun writing this series focused on employee safety and improving workplace conditions. I sincerely hope you have just as much fun implementing and driving these changes for you and your company. You’ll be building a foundation, setting a tone, and showing your employees that you are invested in giving them a safe, clean, and organized workplace—a space where they can succeed and improve. You’ll help lead an effort to invest in your people and invest in making employee safety an integral part of their training and development. When you imbed these safety behaviors, while communicating them throughout the entire organization, you get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees. They’ll have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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