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Is Safety a Liability or an Asset?

How many organizational leaders want someone to be injured at work?

None. Not a single one.

And because of this fact, it’s often difficult to explain the differences in safety results among facilities. Some have frequent and serious injuries, while others with similar operations hardly ever or never, experience them.

Yet, when leadership shares their views on safety, there is a remarkable consistency. They’re all on the same page. Injuries are bad for people, and bad for business. We want our people to stay safe. The sentiment is unanimous. So, what explains the disparate outcomes given such a consistent commitment?

The answer is simple: In business, a leader must make business decisions. All leaders want safe outcomes, but most see safety as a liability. Only a few see safe outcomes as an asset. This difference in view determines their business decisions, and ultimately determines their outcomes.

Every responsible manager understands that liabilities must be controlled and contained. Poor safety brings higher worker’s compensation costs, turnover and regulatory scrutiny. It makes sense to spend resources to minimize this liability, but the cure can’t be worse than the disease. Spending more than it’s costing the company is bad business. That’s why most leaders with this view turn first, and almost exclusively, to compliance. It fulfills their legal responsibility, and if they do it efficiently, their fiscal responsibility. When their cost of compliance is less than their old safety costs, they’re satisfied. They consider themselves successful! There are still injuries, but likely not much beyond the average for their industry. It would be nice if no one were ever injured, but it’s hard to make a business case for it.

In contrast, leaders who see safety as an indispensable asset make a different calculation. These leaders understand that businesses must be moral institutions existing to contribute to the common good. As such, treating people with dignity and respect allows employees the basis for choosing to give their best to the company. This is a discretionary energy which cannot be bought or compelled. A team member proud of their work and the organization they work for, is the foundation of excellence. By meeting their moral responsibility, these leaders are also meeting their fiscal responsibility, and to a much higher degree than their liability-based peers. The math now works out, as they have established the foundation for not just a profitable, but for a great business!

If you were confused before about why some companies are poor or merely good at safety, and why others are great, you now have the explanation. We all want the same thing, but only a few leaders hold the view which will get them there.

Author: Tony Orlowski, Co-Author of Safety Beyond the Numbers


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