It is essential to the success of your company's safety and health program that top management demonstrates not only an interest, but a long term serious commitment to protect every employee from injury and illness on the job. But, if you think you don't have that level of commitment, how do you get it? Real commitment doesn't just appear out of thin air. What is the secret?
Management commitment to safety will occur to the extent each manager clearly understands the positive benefits derived from their effort.
Understanding the benefits will create a strong desire to improve the company's safety culture. Managers will invest serious time and money into effective safety management by developing each of the following elements in the SMS:
Managers make a commitment to safety to fulfill one or more corporate obligations. They invest time and money in safety to fulfill one or more of the following obligations:
Commitment to fulfill this obligation is most effective in the long term. Management has come to the realization that long-term corporate survival depends on more than maximizing short-term profits. Managers tend to value and tap into the creative potential of each employee. They perceive safety as a core corporate value that does not change when the going gets tough. When managers value safety at this level, they naturally do safety to fulfill the other obligations.
Commitment to safety to meet this obligation can be quite effective because it makes good financial sense. Managers are motivated to invest in safety because they understand the financial benefits of an effective safety culture. They feel obliged to operate the business in a financially prudent manner. They do whatever needs to be done to proactively and reactively reduce direct and indirect safety costs. Safety may be a high priority if it pays. However, because safety is not really considered an unchangeable value, it may be given a lower priority if "the going gets tough".
Commitment to safety is given only to fulfill minimum legal requirements. Consequently, this is the least effective reason for doing safety. Managers want to stay out of trouble, so they do only what has to be done to meet OSHA requirements. Safety is not a priority or value, but thought of as just the cost of doing business. Safety strategies are typically reactive because safety is not a problem unless there is an accident. OSHA may be considered the "bad guy" because management doesn't understand how OSHA works. You can see how OSHA works by reading OSHA's Field Operations Manual.
Every day, employees, supervisors and managers have many opportunities to communicate and act in ways that demonstrate safety leadership. Unfortunately, these opportunities go unanswered because they are not seen as opportunities. Employers and managers do not understand that the simple expression of tough-caring safety leadership can result in enormous benefits. The inability to perceive leadership opportunities as they arise limits the company's potential to succeed.
It's appropriate to assume that employees at all levels of the organization are good people trying to do the best they can with what they've got. The problem is, they don't always have the physical resources and psychosocial support to achieve the kind of results expected of them. Why? Ultimately, the workplace culture may not support effective safety management and leadership.
The way we perceive "The way things are around here"...can exert a great influence on leadership styles. We can associate three fundamental leadership styles to the three management imperatives discussed above. Let's take a look at this association.
In this leadership approach, managers are tough on safety to protect themselves: to avoid penalties. The manager's approach to controlling performance may primarily rely on the threat of punishment. The objective is to achieve compliance to fulfill legal or fiscal imperatives. The culture is fear-driven. Management resorts to an accountability system that emphasizes negative consequences. By what managers do and say, they may communicate negative messages to employees that establish or reinforce negative relationships. Here are some examples of what a tough-coercive leader might say:
Punishment - "If I go down...I'm taking you all with me!" (I've heard this myself!)
Punishment - "If you violate this safety rule, you will be fired."
Punishment - "If you report hazards, you will be labeled a complainer."
Negative reinforcement - "If you work accident free, you won't be fired."
As you might guess, fear-driven cultures, by definition cannot be effective in achieving world-class safety because employees work (and don't work) to avoid a negative consequence. Employees and managers all work to avoid punishment. Consequently, fear-driven thoughts, beliefs and decisions may be driving their behaviors. Bottom-line: a fear-driven safety culture will not work. It can not be effective for employees and managers at any level of the organization. It may be successful in achieving compliance, but that's it.
Managers primarily using this approach are tough on safety to control losses. They have high standards for behavior and performance, and they control all aspects of work to ensure compliance.
This leadership approach is most frequently exhibited in the "traditional" management model. As employers gain greater understanding, attitudes and strategies to fulfill their legal and fiscal imperatives improve. They become more effective in designing safety systems that successfully reduce injuries and illnesses, thereby cutting production costs. Tight control is necessary to achieve numerical goals. Communication is typically top-down and information is used to control. A safety "director" is usually appointed to act as a cop: responsible for controlling the safety function.
Tough-controlling leaders move beyond the threat of punishment as the primary strategy to influence behavior. However, they will rely to a somewhat lesser extent on negative reinforcement and punishment to influence behavior. Positive reinforcement may also be used as a controlling strategy. Tough-controlling leadership styles may or may not result in a fear-based culture. Examples of what you might hear from a tough-controlling leader include:
Managers are tough on safety because they have high expectations and they insist their followers behave, and they care about the success of their employees first. This is a self-less leadership approach.
The tough-caring leadership model represents a major shift in leadership and management thinking from the selfish tough controlling model.
Managers understand that complying with the law, controlling losses, and improving production can best be assured if employees are motivated, safe, and able.
Management understands that they can best fulfill their commitment to external customers by fulfilling their obligations to internal customers: their employees.
Communication is typically all-way: information is used to share so that everyone succeeds.
A quantum leap in effective safety (and all other functions) occurs when employers adopt a tough-caring approach to leadership. Rather than being the safety cop, the safety manager is responsible to "help" all line managers and supervisors "do" safety. Line managers must be the cops, not the safety department. This results in dramatic positive changes in corporate culture which is success-driven.
Although positive reinforcement is the primary strategy used to influence behaviors, tough-caring leaders are not reluctant in administering discipline when it's justified because they understand it to be a matter of leadership. However, before they discipline, managers will first evaluate the degree to which they, themselves, have fulfilled their obligations to their employees. If they have failed in that effort, they will apologize and correct their own deficiency rather than discipline. What are you likely to hear from a tough-caring leader? Here are three examples:
Positive reinforcement - "If you comply with safety rules, report injuries and hazards, I will personally recognize you."
Positive reinforcement - "If you get involved in the safety committee, you will be more promotable."
Positive reinforcement - "If you suggest and help make improvements, I will personally recognize and reward you."
You can imagine that in a tough-caring safety culture, trust between management and labor is promoted through mutual respect, involvement and ownership in all aspects of workplace safety.
Top management may communicate their support for safety, but the real test for commitment is the degree to which management acts on their communication with serious investments in time and money. When management merely communicates their interest in safety, but does not follow through with action, they are expressing moral support, not commitment.
Real commitment is an expression of tough-caring leadership by example. Integrity, character, and self-discipline are values that all managers seek in their employees.
Just food for thought: If you're a manager or supervisor, ask yourself, "Do I really like my people?" If the answer isn't yes, start now to rethink your opinion because it's almost impossible to demonstrate caring leadership if you don't actually like your people.
"We choose to have zero injuries. We choose to have zero injuries this day and do this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, because we care for ourselves and others too." S. Farnham, Safety Manager, Contrack, International
They say "perception is reality." If you perceive a lack of top management commitment to safety and health, what can you do about it? First of all, think about fixing the system, not the blame. It's all about system design.
If management is not demonstrating commitment through action, you have an opportunity to become a key player to get things moving. With the help of the safety committee you can "educate up" to help management gain the all-important vision and understanding needed to positively affect attitudes and subsequent behaviors that give workplace safety the emphasis it deserves. Now let's take a look at what you can do.
Your first step may be quite simple, yet it can have a major long-term impact on safety and health in the workplace. Propose that the company include the concept of safety in their vision statement and mission statement.
The vision statement let's the employee and customer know who you are by defining the role your company plays and what its basic values are. The vision statement reflects the corporate culture. One way to understand corporate culture is to think of it as the company's unique "personality" setting it apart from all others.
XYZ Widgets values its "relationship with customer" above all. To be successful we treat all employees as valued internal customers. We respect their ideas, value their work, and provide whatever is needed so that they may accomplish excellence in a safe-productive manner. Doing this empowers our employees so that they may manifest our values daily with our external customers.
The mission statement tells the world what you do -- why your company exists, by stating its intended purpose. The mission statement lets everyone know what your company's product or service is; who its customers are; what its service territory is.
It is the mission of XYZ Widgets to safely manufacture and deliver the highest quality megalithic cyberwidgets to our valued customers throughout the world.
If your company doesn't have a mission statement, try to develop one and convince management of the benefits that will result from a written mission statement. Now let's take a look at two basic approaches employers may adopt in safety and health program management.
It's sad but true - some companies have adopted an approach to safety and health that emphasizes a reactive strategy. A reactive approach assumes that accidents just happen, and there's not much that can be done about it. Consequently, the company places most of its effort into reacting to accidents after they occur. A reactive response occurs after an injury or illness and usually has the purpose of minimizing the costs associated with the injury or illness.
Reactive safety programs always cost much more than proactive programs: Always. Why? Because they aren't implemented until an injury or illness has occurred. When management emphasizes a reactive approach to safety and health, it sends some negative messages to employees:
Check out these examples of reactive safety programs.
Successful companies adopt a proactive strategy that emphasizes prevention. They will do whatever it takes to make sure accidents never happen in the workplace. They believe there are no excuses for an accident. A proactive response to safety and health in the workplace occurs before an accident has occurred. It anticipates and tries to prevent accidents.
By emphasizing accident prevention, management sends positive messages to employees:
Proactive safety strategies are always less expensive than reactive strategies because the company makes investments that result in potentially huge returns. Remember, proactive programs are implemented to prevent future injuries and illnesses.
Check out some examples of proactive safety and health programs.
So now you have a vision and mission statement developed. The next step is to proactively develop some goals and objectives to improve your company's safety and health program. The problem is, most people think goals and objectives are the same thing: They're not.
Goals short unstructured statements and are easy to write. They're nothing more than wishes. For instance, a goal might be to:
On the other hand, objectives are structured statements that provide much more detail. Objectives should structured so that they're SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, and Timely. Take a look at the video on this page for more information on how to write SMART objective.
Action-oriented objectives are also called operational objectives should describe specific job-related actions that can be measured. The results should be achievable and relevant, or important, to the company. And finally, the objective should set a time limit.
However, operational objectives take a little more thought.
Objectives should have the following elements present:
For example, operational safety objectives might be written like this:
Remember to work with the safety committee to share the goals and objectives with everyone in the company. By the end of this course you should be able to think of many more ways to increase management commitment.
Have you ever proposed a recommendation to correct a hazard or improve a procedure, only to have it fall on what appears to be deaf ears? Odds are, management cares very much about safety and health in the workplace, but like you, they are very busy. When a busy manager receives a recommendation from the safety committee, and it's merely a vague one-liner like, "We need to install a new guardrail in the warehouse," the likely response might be to put it on the back burner.
Dan Petersen, Author of Safety Management : A Human Approach, states that, "Management is first of all interested in how the safety professional's ideas relate to the profits of the organization. That is, what will management get in return for the money it is being asked to spend? Thus, safety people ought to be dollar-oriented when talking to management. Even if management understands the language of frequency and severity rates, dollar indicators ought to be used instead."
When talking to management about the bottom line benefits of safety, it's important that they understand the relationship between indirect and direct accident costs.
According to the National Safety Council, when considering all industries nationally, the average direct and indirect claim costs for a lost time injuries is more than $40,000, and fatalities average over $1 million.
Indirect costs average 2.7 times the direct costs. However, it's important to understand that indirect costs may be much higher. Here are three important points to remember when estimating indirect to direct accident cost ratios:
To calculate how safety pays for you, check out OSHA's Safety Pays webpage.
Take a look and download OSHA's Safety Pays software program that can be helpful in determining direct and indirect cost.
(COST ÷ INVESTMENT) X 100
Management may ask you what the Return on Investment (ROI) will be for an investment in safety. Let's say you recommend a $1,000 investment in taking corrective action to eliminate a hazard that could cause an injury resulting in accident costs of $28,000. To determine the ROI, divide $28,000 by $1,000 which gives you 28. To express it as a percentage, multiply 28 by 100 and you discover that the ROI is 2800 percent.
COST ÷ (INVESTMENT ÷ MONTHS)
Management may also want to know how quickly the $1,000 investment will be paid back: what the Payback Period is. To determine the payback period, divide the accident cost of $28,000 by 12 months (1 year) and you arrive at $2,333 per month in potential accident costs. Divide the investment of $1,000 by monthly accident cost of $2,333 and you'll see that the $1,000 investment will be paid back in only .43 months. After that, the investment is actually saving the company money.
If you want, take a closer look at some key elements of an effective recommendation.
Now you have some ammunition to help motivate and increase top management commitment to make an investment in safety. You'll receive many more tips and ideas about this throughout the course. An important step in making sure the above ideas are effectively applied is to develop an action plan to get top management commitment. An action plan is nothing more than a set of long-term strategies and short-term tactics ("how" statements).
Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.
Mark is a consultant and leader within Oregon OSHA, and he manages Oregon's Safety and Health Achievement and Recognition Program (SHARP). If you have time, watch this presentation. It's worth it!