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  • Writer's pictureLeverage Safety

Unveiling the Rationale for Safety Excellence

Updated: Jul 18

In the pursuit of safety excellence, many organizations find themselves pondering important questions. Is it worth investing time and resources into improving safety when the organization already performs reasonably well? Shouldn't efforts be directed toward other aspects of the business? These questions, when posed to business leaders, often trigger a deeper level of strategic thinking that uncovers the true rationale for pursuing safety excellence. Understanding this rationale is key to achieving the level of employee engagement necessary for excellence to thrive.

While many senior leaders recognize the importance of safety, some may initially dismiss the need to delve into the rationale behind it as an exercise in the obvious. However, upon closer examination of personal and organizational reasons for pursuing safety excellence, they often discover additional benefits that justify their pursuit. A comprehensive understanding of the rationale serves as the foundation for a genuine safety excellence strategy. Organizations that truly achieve and sustain safety excellence almost always do so strategically, as the common approach of setting goals and implementing programs falls short in delivering the desired level of safety performance.

The first layer of rationale for pursuing safety excellence revolves around its impact on business. Safety carries measurable costs, both in terms of operational expenses and the consequences of failures. However, the true rationale often lies in the hidden costs associated with accidents. The absence of key personnel, disruptions to operations, negative publicity, strained business relationships, and even being banned from bidding on projects due to high accident rates or severity can have devastating effects on an organization. Additionally, an organization's safety performance is viewed as an indicator of its overall business management practices, influencing the decisions of other senior managers when considering business partnerships. By pursuing safety excellence, organizations can control unnecessary expenses, avoid bad press, and foster strong business relationships.

Beyond purely business-related reasons, there are profound human motivations for pursuing safety excellence. Witnessing the consequences of industrial accidents is heart-wrenching and evokes a sense of altruism among workers and leaders alike. Communicating the altruistic rationale can engage hearts and minds, as human beings tend to react emotionally before responding intellectually. Psychologists emphasize the basic human needs for affinity and affiliation—the need to believe in something and to belong to something. An organizational pursuit of safety excellence can address these needs to some extent, providing a sense of fulfillment and motivation. Organizations that have reached the highest levels of safety excellence often report that their workers demonstrated extraordinary effort along the way. Ordinary causes and rationales seldom evoke such extraordinary dedication. While emphasizing altruistic reasons for safety is important, presenting the complete case that encompasses both business and altruistic rationales has proven successful for many organizations. Articulating the idea that safety excellence not only enhances the well-being of individuals but also improves the overall business can be compelling.

This holistic rationale for safety excellence helps answer the question of "What's in it for me?" Knowing that the pursuit is both human-oriented and beneficial for the business resonates when individuals are part of an organizational team. Team members who feel vulnerable to accidents gain a greater sense that their well-being is a collective concern. Those who have control over their workplace risks can also look out for others and share their expertise, fostering a sense of teamwork and personal growth. As the focus shifts from "What's in it for me?" to "What's in it for us?", safety becomes ingrained in the organization's culture rather than being treated as a mere program.

It's essential for organizations to define the rationale for safety excellence before diving into action plans. Hearts are won with a compelling rationale, not just plans and strategies.

Taking the time to bring organizational leaders together to define the rationale is a worthwhile investment that yields extraordinary effort and engagement. Furthermore, a well-defined rationale creates a vision of what success will look like and ensures that efforts stay on track. By identifying the right rationale and vision, organizations can break free from the self-limiting cycle of goals and programs, paving the way for true safety excellence.

In conclusion, asking the right questions and uncovering the rationale for pursuing safety excellence is the foundation of a strategic approach. Safety excellence goes beyond the surface level of performance metrics and touches the core of the business, human values, and organizational culture. By understanding and embracing this rationale, organizations can embark on a journey towards true and sustainable safety excellence.

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