What’s More Important: Safety or Profits?

By Jude Carter

How does it work if you run a safety organization and have been tasked with focusing on keeping your workers safe, yet your boss has a strong directive (to which his or her bonus is tied) to cut costs and improve workplace productivity? Reducing headcount and cutting corners can look great on the bottom line… until the risk of those shortcuts translates into costly and often tragic results.

Today’s WSJ article tells of the clash of priorities inside BP. In the end, the louder voice (or the bigger hammer) seemed to be attached to the workplace efficiency and productivity messages, not the safety ones.

What struck me was the quote from Jordan Barab of OSHA. “They claim to be very much focused on safety, I think sincerely. But somehow their sincerity and their programs don’t always get translated well into the refinery floor.”

We see it all the time with our customers who are looking for innovative ways to improve workplace communication. It’s one thing to have a high-level goal or mission coming from senior management. It’s quite another thing to make that come to life in a relevant way for all workers, at all levels on all shifts. Apart from the skill that workers bring to the job and the formalized training that companies provide, there is the day-to-day reinforcement. How that’s done (or even whether it is done at all) makes all the difference between a hollow directive from the corner office vs. an engaged workforce that is committed to, and compensated and recognized for creating a culture of safety. And then there’s the matter of the push-pull of opposing priorities.

Where in your company are conflicting priorities putting your workers, shareholders, customers or others at risk?

Sharon Toelle
June 30, 2010

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