ASSE: Foulke Provides Corporate Communication Strategies for Safety Professionals

During a panel presentation at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) "The Business of Safety – A Matter of Success" symposium in Baltimore, Md., OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke discussed how safety professionals can meet the expectations of senior management, stressing that they should be placed in the same professional caliber as company CEOs and CFOs.

“We need to start enhancing the safety professional to bring them up in their business organization,” Foulke stated. “We should make sure the safety professional is in the 'C-room,' where the CEOs [and] CFOs are. If we can get to that point, then I think upper management will be more focused on safety and health.”

Foulke explained that safety professionals can get senior management’s attention by conducting and using research to demonstrate the importance of safety within the company. When doing so, safety professional should address the following questions:

  • What practices are best for lasting success?
  • What is the return on investment?
  • How can safety and health be a part of the way our business runs?

Foulke also touted some OSHA resources safety professionals can use when approaching senior leadership, such as the Making the Business Case for Safety and Health topics Web page and its online calculator, which allows employers to estimate savings earned by preventing injuries.

Hidden Costs in Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

Foulke stressed that it makes business sense to ensure employees go “home safe and sound to their families and loved ones.” Doing so would reduce costs and boost worker efficiency and productivity, he said.

He also emphasized that workplace injuries and illnesses are “upsetting, expensive, wasteful and unnecessary.” Hidden costs are tied to injuries and illnesses, he said, as they often involve time lost from work, training costs for new workers and replacement costs for damaged tools.

Liberty Mutual, in its 2006 Workplace Safety Index, estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week to injured employees and their medical care providers.

Foulke discouraged employers from drifting toward the notion that writing a check for workers’ compensation would solve their problems. Those expenses can make a drastic impact on the health and success of a company, he asserted. He also pointed out that safety and health professionals are the best candidates to point this out to company leadership.

“Allowing people to go home every night safe and sound to their families and loved ones is something that I talk about in all my speeches as being the real bottom line for every business,” he said.

“Watch the Hips, Not the Lips”

Maureen Steinwall, president of Steinwall Industries, and Thomas Krause, chairman of Behavior Science Technology, also pointed to ways safety professionals can communicate effectively and achieve ongoing support from senior company management.

Steinwall stressed it is vital for safety professionals to study their respective corporate cultures to understand the values and belief systems instead of simply relying on company Web sites or promotional materials for knowledge.

“Watch where the hips go, not where the lips go,” Steinwall said, adding that doing so enables safety professionals to comprehend management’s priorities and to align safety goals with those priorities.

According to Krause, one way for safety professionals to accomplish these goals is to understand what kind of company they work for. A compliance-driven organization, for example, likely aims to avoid penalties and OSHA visits. Professionals working for this type of company are challenged to change how leadership views safety as well as develop a strategy that clarifies and builds on safety objectives.

A safety-improvement organization, meanwhile, views safety as an important value, and these safety professionals can focus on executing and accomplishing their goals.

“Safety professionals should understand what kind of company they are working in order to know how to get senior leadership's attention,” Krause said. “Once that's done, all you need to worry about is getting [safety and health goals] done.”

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