World-Class Safety: In the Eye of the Beholder

March 25, 2004
World-class safety, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, believes Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH. He told the safety professionals attending the "Achieving World-Class Safety" Seminar in New Orleans on March 25, "Most companies are more intent on being best in class, which gives a clearer value in terms of a competitive advantage."

He revealed he did a search for "world-class" on Google and it returned nearly 4.5 million hits. "Is world-class becoming an overused term and, as a result, devalued statement?" he asked.

The components of world-class, he noted, and of world-class safety, are:

  • A vision to be world-class
  • Driven to be the best you can be
  • Achievement of results
  • Establishment of targeted accountability
  • Consistent processes/process driven
  • Senior management leadership
  • Aligned to broad business goals
  • Commitment to core values, including customers, quality and safety
  • Sustainable (the ability to adapt to change)

He said companies generally fall into several categories. They offer:

  • Marginal compliance - they just want to get by.
  • Compliance basic compliance, because management doesn't see cost associated with accidents and they don't see the value in safety.
  • Exceeding compliance they realize there's a return for safe production.
  • Safety excellence they want to be excellent in the way they run the business. They know, "If we follow these principles, we will be a better company," said Cecich.
  • World class "Very few organizations obtain this level," said Cecich. "Everybody can aspire to excellence but to say you're the best" is not something most companies are ready to do.

He said he spoke to the CEO of one company who admitted, "We want to do all the right things and protect our people. We want to be excellent, but I don't know if we want [to go for world-class safety]."

"They didn't want to get in an arms war," Cecich noted. In other words, striving for world-class safety consumes time and resources: leadership time, organizational energy and an initial financial investment.

He said companies can use these benchmarks to know if they've arrived at safety excellence or world-class safety. They must:

  • Have eliminated injuries, illnesses and losses. "You can't lay claim to safety excellence or world-class safety if you can't virtually eliminated injury and illnesses," said Cecich.
  • Use safety as a competitive advantage.
  • Promote consistent global safety processes.
  • Externally verify safety processes.
  • Use external benchmarking
  • Have other organizations are seeking them out
  • Have NGOs marking their accomplishments
  • Have socially responsible investment companies acquiring their stock
  • Have achievement that is sustainable across multiple business cycles. "When business is good, safety is excellent. When business is bad, safety is excellent," said Cecich.

But what is good enough when it comes to safety? As Cecich said, "Safety is in the eye of the beholder."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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