New research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows how CEOs can play a more effective role in developing an organizational safety climate in their organizations that actually reduces injuries. 

“Safety in the C-Suite: How CEOs Influence Organizational Safety Climate and Employee Injuries,” which was funded by the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), is based on tests of the commonly held “leader-centric” viewpoint, where the leader at the top is assumed to directly influence frontline employee injuries. The researchers found that CEOs in their study actually indirectly influenced workers’ experience of injuries by promoting an overarching safety climate in their organization, achieved through the collective learning experiences and efforts of the CEOs’ top management team, managers, and supervisors. 

The study was based on data collected from 2,714 employees, 1,398 supervisors, and 229 in top management teams in 54 small-, medium-, and large-sized private and public sector organizations. It was authored by Dr. Sean Tucker (University of Regina), Dr. Babatunde Ogunfowora (University of Calgary), and Dayle Ehr (University of Regina).

“Our research is the first to gather hard data to test if and how CEOs influence injuries among frontline workers,” said Prof. Tucker. 

“We found that CEOs have the most direct safety-related influence on their top managers. These top managers then role model pro-safety values and behaviors to lower-level managers and supervisors, and this in turn cascades down to the frontlines. We call this process collective social learning, and our data shows that this process works to create an overall safety climate that reduces injuries on the frontlines.”

Why it matters

Direct and indirect costs for workplace injuries and fatalities costs the Canadian economy approximately $19 billion annually. In addition to the human toll, the economic loss can be staggering to a company, and those losses impact workers and bottom lines globally. 

The essential ingredient to reduce workplace injuries is a strong safety climate that permeates the organization. The research demonstrates that this is achieved when CEOs, senior managers, managers and supervisors, and frontline staff are aligned in their commitment to safety. Beginning with the CEO, and with the active participation of groups spanning the hierarchy, organizations can reduce workplace injuries.

The human toll and the bottom line

“Aside from the human toll, workplace injuries and deaths take a tremendous toll on a business’ bottom line, and this research makes an important contribution to our understanding of how we can improve worker safety and reduce businesses’ costs,” said Phil Germain, Vice President of Prevention and Employer Services at the WCB. “The researchers collected and analyzed a large amount of hard data to show that reducing worker injuries, which can save businesses literally millions of dollars, comes through a CEO-driven, top-down cascade of directives that promote a pervasive climate of safety at all levels of the organization.”

Click here to read the full paper, including the survey questions that were used.

About the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board 

The WCB is the provincial agency that delivers workplace insurance to Saskatchewan employers and benefits to Saskatchewan workers when they are hurt at work. The WCB legislation, The Workers’ Compensation Act, 2013, describes the workplaces that are covered and the benefits that are provided.