Note: this is the first in a series of excerpts from the eBook, “Through the Eyes of the Executive: Creating a Healthier and Safer Workforce.”

When I look at the landscape of health and safety today in the U.S. and globally, it reminds me of a Henry Ford quote I heard long ago — “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Our workforce is getting older and less healthy; organizations are experiencing massive brain drain as our baby boomers retire; and workplace accidents have remained stagnant — but the costs associated with them are increasing annually. I would argue that if we are going to improve, then something has to change. 

This series of articles for ISHN is based on a UL roundtable assembled in 2014. A diverse group of thought leaders, experts and executives explored this question of how to create a sense of urgency and provided a roadmap that will help organizations improve outcomes rather than continue to compound the problem.  Each attendee brought a unique perspective on workplace health, safety and learning. Combined, these perspectives have a direct influence on the final result. The responsibility to establish a workplace culture in which health and safety are paramount lies with CEOs – but its delivery can be delegated. Collaboration among all stakeholders, top to bottom, leads to real change in organizations.

As occupational health and safety experts, we face a huge challenge. Ideally, the framework for change presented in the eBook resulting from the roundtable will result in the next big thing for health and safety – the thing that helps all organizations achieve excellence and ensure improvements are sustainable for generations to come. 

Precursors to success

The roundtable participants collectively identified the following top seven necessary conditions that must exist in organizations to achieve and sustain health and safety integration:

1. Use a holistic approach: Align safety and health; they are not disparate functions. Design initiatives to incorporate both health protection (safety) and health promotion (well-being).

2. Make a commitment: Position integrated health and safety activities as key contributors to an organization’s value system and sustainability, not as a cost of doing business.

3. Present the business case: Express value in terms senior executives understand. Adopt
common terminology for key performance indicators. Senior executives know intuitively that healthy workers are more productive workers, but they need empirical evidence to justify an investment in comprehensive workplace health and safety programs. Reduce ambiguity.

4. Create an overarching management structure: Create lines of authority and reporting to encourage effective communication among all parties. For example, when safety, health and risk management individually report to different senior executives or department heads, experience shows that opportunities for collaboration are likely to be impeded by competing priorities, resource constraints, logistical challenges and cultural barriers.

5. Prepare for a new profession: Redesign undergraduate and graduate school curricula to incorporate health and safety concepts in business courses. Similarly, introduce more business management concepts into environment, health and safety (EHS) education. Redefine professional roles and responsibilities to better meet current and anticipated business, safety and health management needs and trends.

6. Support a culture of continuous learning:  By learning, we refer to an organization’s ability to shift its focus from past accidents (lagging indicators) in order to include behaviors and conditions that create risk (leading indicators). When behavior change permeates an organization, it creates a sense of urgency. By looking for deviations and responding with vigilance, organizations can stimulate meaningful changes in systems and processes that help reduce the likelihood of accidents. 

7. Get everyone involved:  Whether it be participation rates in health and wellness initiatives, at-risk reporting or learning teams, the involvement of the entire organization cannot be understated or underestimated in the impact it has on performance improvement. The more successes can be measured and reported, the more holistic response by management.

Roundtable background

UL (Underwriters Laboratories), in collaboration with the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University and the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM) at the University of California, Berkeley, sponsored this two-day Leadership Roundtable on June 20-21, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

The agenda was designed to reach consensus on these issues:

  • real and perceived barriers to the successful integration of workplace health and safety interventions;
  • case studies and best practices at companies with integrated occupational health and safety service delivery models;
  • efforts to embed a culture of health and safety in organizations; and
  • metrics used to measure the impact of coordinated workplace health and safety programs and benchmark performance across multiple locations and/or by industry type.

Organizations and the workers they employ benefit from the integration of health and safety programs. Incremental movement toward improved coordination and synergistic endeavors serves the best interests of all stakeholders in the nation’s personal health care, benefits and workers’ compensation delivery systems.

Part 2 in this series, “Enhancing Organizational Capabilities for Noticing and Anticipating,” will appear in ISHN’s July issue.