How to Sell Safety to Upper Management

Oct. 19, 2000
To get the attention of CEOs, safety professionals need to talk their language, says speaker at the NSC Congress.

Capturing the attention of upper management can be a constant struggle for many EHS professionals. That struggle to promote the need for put more resources into workplace safety can be made easier if these professionals learn talk to CEOs in terms they can understand, says a speaker at the National Safety Council''s (NSC) Congress.

Terry Hart, CSP, director of construction safety at Marley Cooling Tower Co. in Overland Park, Kan., told NSC Congress attendees this week in Orlando, Fla., that speaking a CEO''s vernacular requires focusing the conversation on how safety affects the company''s bottom line. "They (CEOs) relate to dollars and cents. They don''t relate to incident rates."

To convince upper management that a safe workplace helps the bottom line, Hart said, EHS professionals need to make clear the cost impact when a worker is injured or killed.

Stating direct costs of workplace accidents, such as workers'' compensation costs and OSHA fines, is not enough, Hart said. CEOs must understand the impact of indirect costs, which he calls costs of time. These indirect costs can be as much as 20 times higher than direct costs.

Hart lists several areas of indirect costs that, when combined, should grab the attention of any CEO:

  • Loss of productivity. When a worker is injured, that person is not being productive and may be out of work for some time. The injury may have resulted in damaged equipment, which must be repaired or replaced. A severe accident may shut down part or all of a plant for weeks or months.
  • Training and retraining. When a worker is injured, the company may have to expend resources to train that worker for light-duty work or retrain an employee who returns after a long absence. Other workers may have to be trained to fill the opening left by an injured or deceased employee.
  • Selection process for hiring new employees. If a worker must be replaced, time and energy must be used to interview and hire someone. In addition to orientation, this can include drug testing, a physical or a background check.
  • Morale. Employee morale may drop following an accident. Hart said he has seen instances where workers developed poor safety practices, poor workmanship and a lack of respect for management.
  • Legal costs. Accidents can lead to lawsuits. Costs can include lawyer fees and time spent compiling information and attending court proceedings.
  • Filling out forms. Time must be expended after an accident to fill out insurance, accident investigation and medical forms.

by Todd Nighswonger

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