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ASSE: Making the Business Case for Safety

Prompting company management to view workplace safety as a business value is not always an easy feat, but it can be accomplished if safety and health professionals use “business-speak” and other tools to effectively demonstrate the benefits safety can bring to the workplace.

David Galt, legal editor for Connecticut-based Business and Legal Reports, discussed ways safety and health professionals can gain management support and maximize the effectiveness of their efforts at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) “The Business of Safety – A Matter of Success" symposium in Baltimore, Md.

According to Galt, several barriers deter company management from viewing safety performance as part of a business value. For example, management might consider safety merely a cost that does not make a return. That is why Galt stresses the importance of presenting safety as an investment and a value.

He outlined several challenges facing safety professionals, including a lack of terminology describing safety performance in financial terms, which might prevent discussions of the value of safety from translating smoothly to the language used by management who administer financial support. This also makes it difficult to produce or obtain consistent injury/illness cost data to illustrate the value of safety programs. Lastly, Galt explained safety managers often lack the technical skills needed to link safety strategies to financial outcomes.

Breaking Through the Barriers

So how can safety professionals break through these barriers? Galt suggests identifying one of the drivers that steers the organization. For instance, corporations are driven by profit margins and productivity, while mandated directives drive government agencies.

Therefore, Galt suggests that safety managers use language found in their company's mission statements, press releases and annual reports to align the safety message with the company’s mission. He also urged safety managers to learn fundamental financial terms such as “return on investment” and identify and learn from the company’s key financial players.

“When you are in Rome, you learn a Roman language, so it makes sense that when operating within a business you learn business-speak,” Galt said. “It gives you credibility when you learn how your organization expresses its values.”

Galt also suggested that safety professionals do an inventory of the company's safety programs and break them down by the cost of each activity. He pointed out that several spreadsheets and programs, such as the popular Total Cost Accounting, help professionals estimate the cost gains realized through preventing workplace injuries and illness claims. Businesses can use this information to predict the direct and indirect costs of injuries and the sales needed to compensate for these losses.

“These are tools safety professionals can use to demonstrate how employers can save money. The fewer injuries and accidents, the fewer visits they will receive from OSHA,” Galt said. “Not to mention the improvement it will have on employee morale as well as its reputation.”

To ensure this information is effective, Galt suggests that safety professionals make the information as clear as possible and not overwhelm management with safety and health lingo and numbers. For example, Galt recommended that safety professionals use a balanced organizational score card, which displays safety and health activities and compares them with other activities in the organization (such as production) and demonstrates progress.

The most important element to keep in mind, Galt stressed, is to follow up with senior management by updating them regularly on safety program processes.

“Follow these key points and you'll definitely have senior management's attention,” he said.

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