In some places, safety is treated much like human resources used to be. HR of old was Personnel, the record keepers, the compliance folks. HR was not always the home of “the best and the brightest.” Employees who deserved a place in the organization, but didn’t really fit anywhere, could be parked in Personnel.

In a gradual but dramatic transition, HR today in many organizations is an essential business partner, a staff function critical to the effective operation of the organization. Members of the HR profession have by and large made their case, told their story in compelling ways, and demonstrated their value. In many work settings, HR professionals today do not have to keep trying to get top management’s attention, and to explain and justify their contribution.  

I know there are still places where the Safety Department resembles HR of old.

But safety professionals do not have to accept “second-class citizenship” in their organizations. There is an obvious and important case to be made for the role of safety professionals, safety committees, and safety leaders at all levels, as critical business partners. It is up to us. We have to market ourselves, sell our story, educate our organizations about the value-added of a world-class safety culture, and then produce results.

We can identify how our work in safety supports the overall vision and related business strategy of the company. We can be explicit about the key safety initiatives that align with and support that vision and strategy.

If it is part of the overall strategic plan for your business to, for example, grow through acquisition and/or merger, what is the plan for integrating new members of the team into your safety culture? If new equipment and new technology come into your business, what are the safety implications? You can help design or spec that equipment for safe operation, maintenance, service and repair. You plan for training new employees (and contractors) who may be unfamiliar with your company.

To establish their proper place, professionals must develop strategic safety plans that support the overall business strategy, and must sell and promote those plans to their leaders. I say “sell” intentionally. We are all in sales and marketing. The question is not whether we sell; it is how well we sell. Make your case.