Safety 2009: The Corporate Responsibility Revolution

During his keynote speech at ASSE Safety 2009, Tim Sanders, former Yahoo chief solutions officer, stressed that corporate social responsibility – which he defined in part as “do no harm, but do some good” – is a strategic component that influences a company’s success.

According to Sanders, customers, partners, buyers and the market aren’t purchasing just a product or service anymore. Instead, they’re beginning to purchase a story about the company behind that product or service. That story going to be the brand and have a big impact on corporate value. And, Sanders added, the safety professional’s role is strategic to the company and will be the core of the company’s success.

“Social responsibility is not just about being green,” Sanders said. “This is a very big misunderstanding.”

Instead, he said the most important factor in corporate social responsibility is people – how the company treats it workers, especially in regards to wages, benefits, safety, accident prevention, the environment and so on. The next most important elements include the company’s effect on the local community and finally, the environment. “Companies have to get the people front and center,” he stressed.

Sanders presented several ways he believes can help safety professionals “get it” when it comes to corporate social responsibility:

Partner with human resources. “There are a lot of things in human resources that are very strategic to safety and health,” he said. “For example, engagement. One of the things we found in our research is an employee who shows up, pays attention and is engaged, is a whole lot more likely not to have operator error.” Another area some HR professionals are working in, he explained, is the problem of sleep deprivation in the workplace. Loss of sleep is more prevalent now than ever before in part because of broad access to computers and the Internet, and when people consume media online just before bed, it affects the way they sleep as well as their attention levels the next day at work. Finally, HR professionals also are realizing that when employees are involved in a cause at work, such as community development or mentorship, alertness level increase by at least 20 percent. “When a person feels they are making a difference, they bring their whole selves to work,” Sanders says.

Be aware of information worker risks and depression. Sanders said that for companies that have a lot of information employees working on computers, this is the new safety crisis. Spending long hours working at a computer while being isolated from human contact and being constantly interrupted by different tasks can cause a “deep human depression,” Sanders said. In fact, he said there is a new depression on the horizon – new economy depression syndrome (NEDS) – and called this problem “the new ergonomics.”

Use natural light. Lighting is a productivity and a safety issue, and natural light dramatically increases alertness, Sanders said. He referenced Herman Miller, which flooded a factory with natural rather than artificial light and as a result saw a dramatic lift in productivity, mood and engagement levels.

Take safety excellence into your communities. By bringing your company’s safety successes into the local community and giving it away provides a branded moment and raises the profile of safety in your organization.

Stop printing documents. According to Sanders, corporate document printing represents a third of all printing in the United States. Many workers automatically print out PDFs and PowerPoint presentations without realizing how many pages are going to come rolling out of the printer. He suggests GreenPDF.com, which will show workers just how many trees they will kill by printing the document. Furthermore, thousands of pages of documents can be stored on a thumb drive or on an e-reader. “Information should be read on a screen,” Sanders said.

Don’t use e-mail when you can have a meeting. “Meetings are the only way to connect with people and code their intentions visually,” Sanders said, comparing e-mail blasts about safety to spam.

Verify your CEO or founder’s vision and use it as a tool. According to Sanders, many companies include corporate responsibility or sustainability in their corporate values, but only about 18 percent of employees actually read their company Web site and are aware of those corporate values. Don’t lose these potentially valuable messages.

Put a story next to every statistic. “Whenever possible, use stories,” Sanders said. “Stories illustrate ideas in a real way. Specific stories bring everything to life.”

Respect people’s decisions. “You have to respect the way people decide, and respect their decisions along the way,” Sander said. “Respect they way they make decisions, and honor their objections.”

Get involved in social media. While social networking might never be a substitute for face-to-face contact, it is still a valuable tool. Sanders said tweetdeck.com provides a dashboard view about what people are saying about your company on Facebook and Twitter. And if your company allows it, consider blogging or tweeting about safety innovation.

“People come first,” Sanders said. “If we do one thing right at work next week after this conference, we’ll go to work and appreciate the people we work with. I think the most socially responsible thing we can do at work is treat the people we work with like [family].”

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