I know that some people – perhaps many - believe that there is a “trade-off” between EHS and shareholder value. That is, that there is a “cost” to shareholders for achieving superior EHS performance. This is generally not true in my experience. As I will speak to later – I believe that EHS and financial performance more often than not move in the same direction.
I had been warmly welcomed to South Africa. We were there to work with a mining construction company who wanted to solve their safety challenge. The immensity of this challenge hit us on our day off while we dealt with our jet lag.
As people were gathering for the meeting, Ami, the safety professional who had brought me to their site, thanked one of the employees for being at the evening session. The employee replied, “Management ‘strongly recommended’ we attend.” By the tone of his voice, he made it clear his leadership was doing all but making attendance at the meeting mandatory.
A popular business concept has organizations searching for how they can look to the future while still dealing with day-to-day crisis events. These mini and maxi disruptions come from things like weather disasters, fatalities, spills and the like…and suck our resources dry. Those of you who have experienced such career-shaking times know that pretty much all non-crisis activities and plans cease while you are in the midst of the moment—which seems like it will never end!
It’s long been a beef with safety and health pros that senior leaders, with the rare exception, just don’t get safety. Business bosses don’t study it in business school, and since safety is a cost center and not a profit generator, leadership spends little time studying safety issues. Health issues, with their more delayed consequences and debatable connection to worker lifestyle issues (smoking, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse) are even further off the executive radar screen.
I prefer to be optimistic and humanistic, believing that the silent majority does care about the safety and health of others, and wants to do the right thing. Consider for example the large numbers of people reacting to tragedies from shootings in airports and educational settings to catastrophes from climate change.
James Madison, fourth president of the United States, was instrumental in drafting the United States constitution. He warned against creating laws “so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”
Trust is one of the fundamental aspects contained in the British Health & Safety Executive’s ubiquitous definition of Safety Culture, which states “organizations with a positive Safety Culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy of preventative measures”[i].