Yes, it can: that’s the finding of a new study by the National Safety Council (NSC). The report, which was published in the Journal of Safety Research, studied the connection between customer satisfaction and the safety climate at a Midwestern electricity utility. The findings suggested a “significant correlation” between rates of customer satisfaction and the safety climate of different work groups at the company.
While the specific correlation is new, such findings should come as no surprise for several reasons. First, safe workplaces make workers feel secure, meaning they can concentrate on things other than avoiding exploding gas pipes or breathing in hazardous air. Or, as the NSC paper puts it: “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”
Second, the correlation between a safe workplace and satisfied customers is just another manifestation of that annoying fact advocated by the labor movement in the early 20th century and which has revolutionized management style ever since: happy workers mean happy customers. According to an article in Executive Travel Magazine, “Compare Fortune magazine’s annual list of best places to work with the Fortune 500, and you’ll find a lot of crossover. Experts say that happy employees—especially in customer service—are more engaged with their jobs and therefore more likely to go the extra mile.” When workers are secure, they feel protected, knowing management cares about their safety; that, presumably, makes them happy. And their happiness makes them concentrate on quality.
Such truths show the absurdity of stories like this one (about a Kentucky coal company that sued an employee who voiced concerns about mine safety) and this one (about a receptionist who was fired after complaining that the office was kept too cold), all the more absurd. Rather than retaliate against workers who blow the whistle about safety conditions, studies like the NSC’s indicate that management should recruit these dedicated employees to work with it to improve those conditions. In other words, it behooves companies to actively create workplace cultures where safety is openly discussed and patently prioritized.
Indeed, creating a “safety and health culture” is one of the stated aims of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), whose work has contributed to a 62 percent decrease in workplace fatality rate and 42 percent occupational injury rate since its founding in 1971. Is it coincidental that over the same period, American labor productivity has also increased markedly? We think not.