Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, sometimes companies prefer to stash their safety programs in the filing cabinet rather than actively prioritizing it within their work operations. The buck is passed on to safety professionals, who are then counted on to carry out duties that exceed their authority. Resistant to change, management simply assumes that their employees are out of harm’s way, and that the reports they receive from their safety group will be flawless until proven otherwise.
When companies flunk safety, safety professionals shouldn’t be the default scapegoat
A common management mistake is failing to define and support the role of safety professionals. Jim Loud mentions this problem in “Taking Safety Seriously: A Contrarian View of the Safety Practice” published in Professional Safety:
“Other than their own staffs (if they have one), safety professionals don’t hire, fire, pay, promote or supervise workers. Therefore, they have no direct control over the work…How can anyone with so little control over the work (or the workers) be held responsible for its safe performance?”
Loud’s point resonates in other organizational capacities, too; is it reasonable for an intern to be tasked with making executive decisions that have a major impact on the company’s future? Whether management’s ambivalence is rooted in indecisiveness, cluelessness, or being overwhelmed with seemingly more “important” sections of the business, it’s problematic for higher-ups to lean on safety professionals to be accountable for ensuring a healthy, hazard-free workforce, without giving them clearly defined expectations and authority.
Safety professionals are often frustrated
Through our interactions with members of the industry on LinkedIn, including the groups Environmental Health & Safety Professionals and Construction Health and Safety, we noticed a theme. We asked these networks to talk about past work experiences where the recommendations they made weren’t taken seriously by others in the organization, and what they saw as the roadblocks to good safety practices. Most safety pros we talked to expressed their frustration on how their roles were treated by company management, and how their input was ignored, minimized, or not taken seriously – often in order to save the business from incurring additional expenses. Since it’s a regular uphill battle to get buy-in from management, the unwavering passion that safety professionals have for their line of work is indisputable, and deserves wholehearted recognition from their superiors.
Safety isn’t optional – it’s essential
You can’t stay afloat by patching holes in a sinking ship. That’s how many safety programs are designed today, organized around what Jim Loud refers to as “plan, do, hope, pray.” In order to maintain a functional safety system, company leadership must manage safety in the same way they manage their business operations. According to OSHA, companies that prioritize occupational health and safety culture can curb injury and illness expenses between 20 to 40 percent; dangerous workplaces create more roadblocks to productivity and negatively affect employee morale. But widespread reluctance to invest in the well being of employees will only continue unless leadership realizes that profits and losses are directly impacted by the level of safety oversight – and that human lives don’t have a price tag.