I don't think companies shy away from talking about their safety performance, good or bad, because there is a lack of interests, OSHA paranoia, or inside counsel has frowned on discussing it publicly out of fear of lawsuits, even though some of this may exist in every company. I think the reason is much more simple and straightforward.
From the public standpoint, safety just hasn't ever risen to the point that it is held out as a differentiating factor in the marketplace. Shareholders and mutual fund managers do not invest in publicly traded companies based on safety, or health and the environment, for that matter. Oh sure there are several sustainability mutual funds out there, but based on the billions of shares traded safety, health and the environment do not pop up on traders' radar screens unless they think they can profit financially from a tragic event.
Take BP for example, its stock plunged after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout from $60.98 to $26.75. Today it closed at $44.14. Now, how many investors do you think profited from this catastrophe? A LOT! Do you think they care about BP's SHE performance? BTW, this isn't to make light of the deaths that occurred in this tragic incident, but again what has BP done with respect to these deaths? Apparently, they are worth $8 to $9 million each based on recent media reports regarding settlements with the deceased victims' families. Of course, people could boycott BP products, but all that does is make a small portion of the consumer base feel good for a couple of days and then they move on to the next boycott or go have a beer.
When do we hear C-suite managers talk about safety in public? Occasionally, they show up at national safety meetings as keynotes and a select few each year are chosen as CEOs who get it. But on the whole, the only time we hear a CEO talk about safety in public is usually after some tragic event in which his/her company was involved.
From an internal standpoint, safety, health and environment have not gained parity with other topics that surface in the boardroom. This isn't to say these topics shouldn't be raised, point is these topics are not raised unless there is a financial linkage to one of the topics in the form of costs or potential liability.
Having worked in DuPont for a number of years, safety is front and center constantly, even in the boardroom, but DuPont is the exception not the rule. As you know, years ago DuPont turned its 200+ years of doing safety into a thriving business offering. Why? because DuPont knows what works and what doesn't work
Other exceptions are companies whose products are applied to or ingested into the human body and those whose products could seriously injure or kill someone, either through poor craftsmanship or improper use. These companies will push their attention to safety on the public, but typically the attention is on the consumer not the producer.
To a great extent, I believe the reason safety is not discussed either publicly or privately is, in large part, our fault. Since OSHA was created, safety has been viewed by management as a "regulatory thing." From a financial perspective, agency safety citations garner pennies on the dollar in the big scheme of things. I am not suggesting that we need to pursue raising fines into the millions in order to persuade management to pay more attention to safety, because if we do advocate that position we simply step right back into the "regulatory thing" mindset with management on worse terms. In our current economic and geopolitical environment, we need to look for areas in which we can use safety as an asset in which management sees value and is willing to invest versus checking boxes and filling out forms.
We need to abandon the technocratic mindset of doing safety work. We need to stop telling operators what they can't do and start understanding what they do and assist them in doing whatever it is safely. Because if we don't, operators will continue to do what they do whenever we stop looking, and management will continue to believe safety is that "regulatory thing."
We sorely need to challenge the status quo and start thinking differently about the value of "WHY" we do safety. Be Safe.