Sure, 2007 proved to be a profitable year for many distributors of safety products. And in the past decade, since OSHA’s standards-setting office went “black” (the recent court-mandated “Pay for PPE” rule and a proposed confined space rule for construction sites notwithstanding), many safety distributors have taken their game to a new level, so to speak. PPE and other safety gear necessary to ensure OSHA compliance has been the foundation of the safety market for 35+ years, and many basic compliance needs still exist, especially in small plants. But savvy, resourceful distributors have gone beyond compliance in their sales strategies.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the ever-growing popularity of the Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP) course, offered twice a year to distributor and manufacturer safety reps and marketers, has occurred at the same time OSHA’s standards-mill has pretty much ground to a halt. Now in its 11th year, QSSP has graduated more than 700 “students” armed with a much better understanding of the cost of safety, and how to make the business case for safety.

Uncovering savings

As Ted Cowie, president of Safety Today Inc., says in an article in this issue: “We advise our customers to ask good questions about accident prevention and total savings. Then, we can use our expertise to lend a hand in uncovering program savings that would otherwise remain hidden.”

Safety Today can conduct complete plant surveys. The survey is a front-to-back study of work environments, hazards present, past accidents, potential accidents, and PPE selection and usage.

George Hayward, in his column this month, also focuses on the newer strategic thinking in safety sales. “Unlike football, in workplace safety and in the business of selling safety products we don’t want to venture into the Red Zone,” where hazards cause injuries, illnesses and fatalities, explains George. Keeping your customer out of the Red Zone, is “not a matter of doing one thing, it’s not a thousand things, it’s everything you do — thought, preparation, education, and execution,” says George.What to do with a satisfied customer?

Even with the innovative thinking of the likes of Ted Cowie and George Hayward and many others in the safety business, there’s an obstinate, possible growing, obstacle out there in the market: the complacent, safety-satisfied customer.

The plant manager or supervisor or employee who believes “it won’t happen to me” and “accidents are the other guy’s problem” are nothing new. But a recent Gallup Poll sheds new light on the safety attitudes of your potential buyers. Results show workers are most satisfied about their relationships with their coworkers and the physical safety conditions at their workplaces.

Nearly three in four say they are completely satisfied with workplace safety conditions.

Add to this perception statistics from the federal government: From 2005 to 2006, there was a six percent reduction in the rate of lost-time injuries and illnesses, as well as a four percent reduction in the overall number of those injuries and illnesses, said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao this past November.

And the overall rate of workplace injuries and illnesses in private industry declined in 2006 (the most recent reportable year) for the fourth straight year. The total recordable case incidence rate (4.4 per 100 workers) was the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began these surveys in 1972.

Not surprisingly, these encouraging numbers, plus the lack of OSHA standards-setting, has lulled many a workplace safety program into a dangerous maintenance mode mindset: “We’re doing good enough in safety. We can run this thing on auto-pilot and put our resources elsewhere.” To borrow George Hayward’s analogy, these workplaces believe they’re far removed from the Red Zone.

New ways to measure safety performance

To sell a complacent customer who doesn’t think he or she needs more than the basic safety equipment requires a new set of “performance metrics” that circumvent the old OSHA injury and illness rates to get at cost-savings, waste, measuring close call reports and tracking at-risk behaviors. Focus on the business case for safety, identify and correct hazards (that could be well-hidden), and the day-to-day actions of managers, supervisors and employees — instead of gaudy-looking injury records, always susceptible to underreporting.

Customers can duck safety investments, pointing to better-than-average stats. The sales challenge now is to convince customers that safety activity is mission critical to the success of the business. That safety is a core business process, just like cost-control, quality, production and customer service. That safety makes for a profitable enterprise. More and more safety training companies, safety consulting services, and in-house safety professionals are using this model to get around the complacency factor.