EDITORIAL COMMENTS: Taking your program public
March 4, 2009
Last month I toured eight brick companies from across the United States and got an inside look at their employee health and safety programs. It took less than two hours and I never left my desk.
I was judging via the Internet the Brick Industry Association’s 2009 Employee Health and Safety Awards Competition. Many of you I’m sure have entered these kinds of contests, or thought about it. Sorry, but I can’t tip you off on how to win one of these things. There are no hard and fast standards for judging health and safety programs.
Typically, injury and illness rates, workers’ comp history, and OSHA inspection records figure prominently when a company decides to “go public” with its safety and health program. And you can bet the numbers look good and show marked declines.
Changing timesEmployers usually are mum about their safety and health programs, unless they have something to boast about. No employer wants to look like a slacker when it comes to protecting lives. Many fear any public talk about their program might have OSHA inspectors knocking at the door.
But the number of safety and health programs going public is slowly but surely increasing, due to expanding Internet interactivity (customer reviews of restaurants, lodgings, cars, prescription meds, hospitals, and yes, companies to work for), social networking, blogging, and Googling.
Plus, recent business scandals and blunders that have contributed to the worse economy in more than a generation, and the ensuing widespread public distrust of business management motives and priorities, has increased pressure for companies to come clean (to varying degrees) and be transparent (to varying degrees) about their goals, strategies and strengths and weaknesses.
Dos and donâ€™tsThe entries in this year’s Brick Industry Association employee health and safety competition gave me the chance to study how companies describe their health and safety efforts in this day of closer public scrutiny. Here are five dos and don’ts to consider when going public with your program:
- Don’t rest your laurels solely on injury
and illness rates and a clean compliance
slate with OSHA. These outcomes can be as
much a matter of random
chance as hard work. Also,
are subject to skepticism.
Companies putting up goose
eggs, all zeroes, for lost-time
and total recordable injuries
in a year might trigger questions
accuracy and under-reporting,
especially if the company is
also highlighting an incentive
program that offers bonuses
to managers and employees
for no injuries.
- Be honest. The
best entry I reviewed in
the BIA’s contest was the
most open and honest. It
described a series of efforts
over a number of years to
improve safety awareness.
“Giveaways” such as coolers
and flashlights didn’t work
because “the focus was on
the award, not on working
safely.” Fewer, more expensive
awards required the
entire plant to perform safely,
taking an award out of the
individual’s control. Finally,
a decision was made to
eliminate awards and go with
spontaneous and personal
recognition, such as the plant
manager flipping burgers at a
free lunch held for reaching a
- Don’t focus on only
one piece of the puzzle.
got employees more engaged,
but not enough to bring about the broad culture
change this company desired. Their award entry
also described: 1) a multi-year training system
adopted for managers and supervisors; 2) the
need for managers to “teach” their direct reports
what they learned in the classroom to “learn for
a second time;” 3) a 24-hour incident reporting
requirement; 4) a post-incident work stoppage
procedure; 5) a zero-tolerance policy for lockouttagout
infractions; and 6) a “Think” program
requiring every employee to complete a form on a
daily basis prior to working.
- Use story-telling. Describe your best
practices, your culture, your successes and failures
in the framework of a story. Don’t simply
offer bullet points listing your program’s elements
The best entry I reviewed in the BIA competition had a plot line with a beginning point, twists and turns, surprises, employee and management actions and reactions, and a concluding summary. Along the arc of this narrative you learned who (plant managers, supervisors, employees) did what (training, risk assessments, reporting, etc.) to try to improve the culture; when these activities occurred (specific years); where (the shop floor, classrooms, luncheons, etc.); how (use of conference calls, daily tool box talks, the stop-and-think process, etc.); and why (to address employee attitudes such as, “Where’s my free flashlight?” and “You really want us to meet quotas and take risks if we have to.”)
- Be a teacher. Taking your health and
safety program public â€” via a contest entry or
PowerPoint presentation at a professional conference
or a web site annual report â€” is more than
an opportunity to win recognition for achievements
or commitments. Again, the best BIA
contest entry I read concluded with a long list
of lessons learned. And they were not all positives.
“Small gifts and free doughnuts don’t stop
accidents.” “Written policies and procedures are
not enough.” “You must ‘walk the talk’ at every
step.” “Changing a culture does not occur overnight.”
“You have to work on keeping it ‘fresh’
Going public with your health and safety program must be more than a PR exercise to earn trust and credibility with your target audience(s). Be honest and “real.” Do more than recite dry facts and statistics. Be creative. And show a sincere interest in using your story to help your web site visitors, contest competitors, or meeting presentation attendees â€” no just impress them.