Selling Safety

Selling Safety

Making the business case for implementing a behavior-based safety program.

You want to implement a behavior-based safety (BBS) program to help your organization reduce workplace injuries and illnesses. You’re convinced a BBS program – as the foundation of an overall strategy to foster a healthy safety culture – would be an effective tool for eliminating at-risk behavior, reducing costs related to incidents and injuries, raising overall safety awareness, monitoring workplace conditions and developing safety leadership skills. But how do you convince management?

Well, you have the statistics on your side. In 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4,551 on-the-job deaths – roughly 12 people killed at work every day. And more than 3 million workplace injuries and illnesses were recorded – roughly 8,980 daily – keeping workers off the job for 965,000 days while they recuperated. The most disabling of these injuries and illnesses collectively cost more than $1 billion a week in workers’ compensation, according to the 2010 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

But rattling off stats will only take you so far in convincing upper management to green light a BBS program. You need to sell safety to top-level leaders.

The most effective way to catch and keep management’s attention is to build a business case for BBS that clearly demonstrates its financial payoff and support for existing company initiatives. This article will show you a game plan for success.

Seek Partners

Before you begin, there are two important steps you need to take. The first is to stop referring to BBS as a cost. Instead, reframe safety efforts as an investment – a commitment of resources to earn a financial return or gain future benefits or advantages. Then, when presenting your case to management, stress that resources allocated for this BBS program represent an investment, not a cost.

The second step is to seek out and engage people in your organization who can help you make your case. Find someone in accounting or finance who can help you secure and crunch the numbers. Discover if there is a higher-level leader in your organization with previous BBS experience. This person can be a great ally, and assist you in the sell.

Make the Financial Case

Now you are ready to dig in. The key to building a business case is laying a solid financial foundation that shows how BBS positively impacts the bottom line. First, calculate what workplace injuries and illnesses cost your organization. In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that, nationwide, unintentional workplace injuries carried a price tag of $183 billion annually in direct costs alone.

Direct costs – Start by pulling your company’s current and past cost data concerning workers’ compensation costs. This includes medical costs, wage indemnity and claims administration fees. Also, pull your actual workers’ compensation premiums. Use these to determine what an injury or illness directly costs your company. Some organizations like to break this number down into how much workers’’ compensation costs the company per hour worked. It’s helpful to note that the National Safety Council estimates that a disabling injury costs $53,000, while a workplace death comes in at $1.33 million.

Indirect costs – Don’t overlook hidden costs. Some estimates put the indirect costs of injuries and illnesses at five times the direct costs. This includes expenses associated with lost production, poor quality goods, damage to customer relations or public image, labor relations, turnover and retraining, sick time and missed shipments. Factor these indirect costs into your estimate.

ROI – Once you know what injuries and illnesses are costing your company, calculate what the payback would be for investing in a BBS program. Organizations usually have guidelines pertaining to major projects that require capital investments or that are expensed. Use your contacts in finance or accounting to help you get familiar with your company’s guidelines. Follow those guidelines when making your projections.

Determine what the investment in BBS will be in terms of dollars – Next, project what your anticipated reductions in claims and workers’ compensation premiums will ultimately be, and over what time period. (A 2-year payback generally is considered good.) You can compare the costs of lost-time injuries and workers’ comp claims to project a breakeven point for your proposal.

Show Support for Company Initiatives

Where possible, demonstrate how a BBS program will support and enhance your company’s existing policies and practices.

A crucial step is to link BBS to your company’s use of lean manufacturing practices such as Six Sigma, or to its continuous improvement initiatives. BBS fits nicely with these programs because it focuses on proactive, rather than reactive, data. Proactive data, as gathered through a BBS program, delivers real-time information about incidents. This information can be used to identify hazards in the workplace and explore ways to control them before a death or disabling injury occurs.

It also can be used to improve processes in terms of productivity, quality, etc. By contrast, many companies monitor their programs using injury data, which is reactive and compiled after damage already has occurred.

In addition, BBS programs support on-the-spot problem solving. This skill is transferable to other areas of the company, such as quality control. BBS also encourages employee involvement, which aligns with any continuous improvement effort.

Most organizations have some sort of language in their mission or vision statement that expresses commitment to worker safety and the safety of the community at large. Point out that a BBS program supports that mission or vision. It reinforces the company’s commitment to social responsibility in the eyes of employers and the community by backing the company’s words with action. And improving safety will reduce the negative impact of incidents on families and communities, helping your organization achieve the goal set out in its mission statement. The company and its top management team become the “good guys.”

Image Management

All management teams want to avoid being involved in a public relations disaster. Remember the Gulf oil spill or the West Virginia coal mine disaster? Such high-profile incidents end up splashed across media outlets – TV, radio, newspapers, the Internet – where the backlash can get nasty. On a smaller scale, a workplace death in your community will end up in the local news, where the fallout can hurt a company. Remind upper management of the consequences of a severe workplace incident. It could mean losing their jobs, a summons to appear before Congress, a huge fine or more government intervention. Point out that such disasters can erode your customer base. After all, anecdotal evidence suggests that following an environmental or safety incident, a company’s products may be boycotted.

An effective BBS program, by reducing injuries and incidents, can burnish a company’s image and bolster its commitment to corporate social responsibility.

In building your argument, don’t overlook the benefits to employees and company culture. The effects of BBS on employees can be widespread and have a positive impact on your organization. An effective BBS process, for instance, could assist in making the entire culture of your organization more team oriented.

BBS encourages employees to talk about safety with each other and to look out for each other. That is a very different kind of culture than one in which every person only looks out for himself or herself. While it’s hard to quantify the psychological effect this can have, promoting a “you look out for me and I’ll look out for you” concept can be very powerful for workers. Point out to management that safety could be the catalyst for this type of behavior in all aspects of your organization, including employee-driven cost-saving measures, production improvements and new product innovations.

A by-product of implementing BBS is that it improves the communication skills of employees who participate, whether they’re managers, supervisors, team leaders or line workers. BBS requires employees to make observations and communicate those observations both orally and in writing. Such practice helps train employees on how to lead and communicate with others. The skills learned with BBS directly can be applied to other areas/issues in the company, such as quality, productivity, employee conduct and morale.

Too often safety committees focus on reactive incident data and compliance-related issues that result in lists for maintenance. But they can be far more impactful in a BBS program. Point out that BBS can re-invigorate your organization’s safety committees.

Conducting observations can energize members and put them into action. These observations also give committees great information with which to create data-driven corrective action plans. That, in turn, makes it easier for the team to track its safety efforts and share progress with management. This group also can make a positive difference in effective implementation.

Top leadership teams will be more likely to approve a proposal if they see a sound, realistic execution plan utilizing these steps. You can make it easy for them to do so by having an idea of what execution looks like before you present it to management. Lay out for them, step-by-step, how you envision the roll out of a BBS will work and be sure to include specific time frames. If you’ve done a good job of making the business case for BBS, management likely will approve your request.


Tony Metz is a certified STOP trainer for DuPont Sustainable Solutions.

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