Making Safety Part of the Corporate Culture

For every high-end timepiece awarded for impressive sales figures, one should also be presented for exceptional safe work practices.

DURING a shift change, an employee removes his eye and ear protection to chat with the worker taking his place. As he walks away, a machine nearby malfunctions, spraying parts and scalding steam in his direction. He is unable to work for two weeks.

Could his injuries have been avoided? Clearly, the employee should not have removed his safety equipment. However, his co-workers are also partially responsible, many experts would argue. Either the person he was talking to or one of the other employees should have reminded him about the safety rules.

When employees take the time to point out hazards to co-workers and management, it's proof that safety has become part of the corporate culture. Is there a clear process to making safety almost second nature? Unfortunately, no. However, according to the experts, one of the most effective methods uses incentive programs to target employees at high-profile company functions as well as in the privacy of their own homes.

While at work, employees hear about safety every day. But does that include Company Day? Usually, this time is spent discussing the organization's performance and goals for the coming year. Top performers are often singled out and rewarded, but rarely do their achievements have anything to do with safety.

A Prime Opportunity Missed
Management is missing a prime opportunity to raise workplace safety to the same level of importance as sales revenue, for instance. It's true a salesperson makes a clear contribution to the bottom line. However, the forklift operator who figures out a safer way to load merchandise could be saving the company millions in damages, lost revenue, and lawsuits. If safety is truly important to an organization, for every high-end timepiece awarded for impressive sales figures, one should also be presented for exceptional safe work practices.

In addition to high-profile events, a grassroots approach can help make safety part of the corporate culture. An off-the-job safety program reinforces the idea that an organization is interested in keeping its employees out of harm's way 24 hours a day.

Questions to Ask

For instance, a growing number of companies have begun offering home safety items such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and first aid kits, to employees at a discount or at cost. Others now identify unsafe behaviors frequently committed at home in their workplace presentations.

Including the home in an organization's safety initiatives helps strengthen the connection with employees, but it also makes financial sense. American businesses annually pay an average of $400 per employee to cover health care costs resulting from off-the-job injuries, according to the National Safety Council.

Selecting the Award
Although selecting the incentive award sounds like the fun part, it is often the most important step in the success of your program. Rewards that aren't motivational or inspirational are doomed to be disappointing. The choice of awards should take into account the following factors about participants:

  • Relationships: Employees all have different skills and attributes, not to mention personalities. These should all be considered when selecting the awards.
  • Former experience: Because of previous awards and presentations, expectations may be high. The selection must be up to the same standards as the products employees have received in the past.
  • Demographics: Their age, income, and family structure will cue you to the level of expense and refinement the awards should have. But choosing an award of higher quality is always smarter than the opposite scenario.
  • Provide a mix: Variety is important because people have different tastes and interests; your own opinions must never be the guiding factor.

Questions to Ask

Before starting a safety incentive program, survey your workers to find out what they consider are the biggest safety risks. Here are some sample questions:

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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