Keeping A Positive Safety Culture

I read with a great deal of interest the article in the summer edition of Welding & Gases Today entitled Watching Your Profits Slip Away, written by Albert D. Bates, Ph.D. In the article, Dr. Bates stated, “Despite the advances at the top of the organization, decisions continue to be made at the bottom that systematically erode profits.” The article was about the massive number of sales transactions that members must process and the related decisions that must be made.

The article got me thinking about safety and all the decisions that are made daily that can also erode profits. Many decisions and choices are made every hour, at all levels of the organization that can result in accidental losses if the wrong decision or choice is made. Many times these flawed decisions or choices stem from a poor safety culture.

Leadership and Trust
Accidents are expensive, but they are also preventable. Providing an accident-free environment starts at the top of the organization. Upper management must provide the leadership and make the commitment that safety is important. Management must “walk the talk” in order to establish the trust that is necessary for a positive safety culture to exist. Lip service to safety will undermine the program and trust will never be established. Both leadership and trust must be present. If the workers perceive that all management cares about are production numbers, they will not only be resentful but the trust will never be established.

Management can help establish that positive safety culture by making sure safety is a consideration in every decision that is made from the top to the bottom of the organization and not just an afterthought. Safety procedures are always followed and not just when it’s convenient. A mindset has to be established where safety is integrated into the day-to-day business activities so that decisions and directives are not given and action is not taken without understanding the safety consequences. You can’t compromise safety and maintain a positive safety culture.

What Is your Safety Culture?
In a positive safety culture, workers are more inclined to take the time and care to work safely, i.e., follow plant safety rules, adhere to written safe practices, wear personal protective equipment, not take job shortcuts, and not take unwarranted and unwanted risks. In a positive safety culture, workers are more likely to respond to and benefit from safety training.

Conversely, in a poor safety culture, work is often done quickly and haphazardly. In spite of the best-intentioned training programs, workers will neglect to use safety equipment, take risks and hazardous shortcuts, and ignore written policies and procedures.

Accidental Losses Are Costly
If you have a weak safety culture where decisions are being made, directives given and actions taken that compromise safety, you will have accidents and they are costly. To make the point, let’s take a look at what might be two typical cases.

If your company or plant has direct costs of $100,000 as a result of accidents, then your indirect costs are most likely the national average, which are about four to one. Your company earnings are 4 percent, which is the profit margin of the typical GAWDA member as noted in Dr. Bates’ article. With your total loss costs of $400,000 and your earnings of 4 percent, your company would need to sell an additional $10 million to cover your accident losses.

Even if your direct costs of accidents is $50,000 and we take a conservative figure of two times the actual costs for indirect costs, with earnings of 5 percent, your sales reps would still need to sell an additional $2 million to cover the accident costs.

Think about the time, energy and effort that goes into generating $2 million or $10 million of sales to cover these preventable accident losses. Safety pays! You bet it does. Studies have also shown that for every proactive dollar spent preventing workplace accidents, four to six dollars are saved in direct and indirect accident costs.

What are safety losses costing your company? If you don’t know, you should find out. You may want to have someone in your organization package this information into an easy-to-understand report that can be reviewed by management to see if change is in order. With numbers like these, it isn’t difficult to see the need for a positive safety culture. And that can only happen with upper management leadership and by establishing trust with the workers.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
GAWDA OSHA & EPA Consultant Thomas W. Eynon is senior associate at B&R Compliance Associates LLC, based in Merritt, North Carolina. Members can reach him at 252-745-7391 and at