Improving workplace safety not only promotes employee and customer wellbeing, but positions manufacturing organizations for long-term success.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 the manufacturing industry saw more than 300 work-related fatalities. Further, out of every 100 workers, an average of 3.5 experienced an occupational injury or illness during the same year. These figures point to a workplace safety crisis in manufacturing, and should give pause to organizational leaders whose responsibility it is to protect the safety and wellbeing of their employees.

And while protecting human life and ensuring every employee is able to work in an environment free of health and safety hazards is a clear moral imperative, the compelling case for manufacturing leaders to strive for healthy and safe workplaces doesn’t stop there.

Considering that the industry contributes to economic growth at the highest multiplier of any sector — it is estimated that for every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, $3.60 is added to the economy — work-related injuries and fatalities in manufacturing equate to millions of dollars of lost productivity every year. In order to guarantee their employees’ wellbeing and the health of their organizations’ bottom lines, it’s critical for leaders of manufacturing organizations to make workplace safety a top priority.

Achieving the Perfect Workplace Safety Score

A major manufacturer with a number of branches across the globe, one Partners In Leadership client held a regional conference in which branch leaders came together to set safety goals and exchange strategies for promoting occupational health and safety.

At the conference, leaders of one branch of the organization declared that their new topline organizational goal was to achieve “Zero, Zero, Zero” — zero total recordable incidents, zero days away from work as a result of occupational injury or illness, and zero fatalities.

Upon hearing this declaration, other branch leaders in the room chuckled — some even claimed outright that such a goal was unattainable. Then, something unexpected occurred: an attendee in the audience raised his hand and said, “Actually, it’s not impossible — at one of our locations, we’ve achieved ‘Zero, Zero, Zero’ for three years running.”

The previously skeptical leaders of the other branches were so surprised to learn that this lofty goal was achievable that, upon returning from the conference, they began to share the story widely across their teams. The result? Employees across every level of the organization came to believe that Zero, Zero, Zero was a realistic goal toward which they all should be working.

The formation of this belief was crucial in mobilizing a change in behavior toward increased safety. This is because, according to the proven wisdom of The Results Pyramid, a proprietary Partners In Leadership model, beliefs serve as the foundational element of actions, which in turn generate results (which may end up being desired organizational outcomes or unintended consequences).

As such, when employees believed that Zero, Zero, Zero was possible, they acted in alignment with this belief, working to achieve the ideal of zero total recordable incidents, zero days away from work as a result of occupational injury or illness, and zero fatalities.

This story serves as a testament to the fact that curbing rates of work-related injuries, fatalities, and other adverse outcomes in manufacturing requires more than simply complying with state and industry standards (think: OSHA manufacturing safety regulations). In order to maximize safety in the workplace, organizational leaders weave the ideals of safety into the very fabric of their company culture.

Making Workplace Safety a Cultural Priority

It’s up to organizational leaders to implement changes in a way that reduces rates of work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. To do so effectively, they must model desired mindsets and behaviors, empowering employees to recognize their beliefs and actions as vital elements in establishing a culture of safety in the workplace. Leaders can follow these steps to achieve higher rates of safety within their organizations:

1: Establish Workplace Safety as a Key Result

Even if safety is already a top organizational goal, solidifying it as a key result spotlights the objective and lays out more explicit expectations for employees. More than general goals, key results are an organization’s three to five meaningful, memorable, and measurable topline priorities that the organization must deliver on in order to be considered successful.

To kickstart an industry-wide safety revolution, manufacturing leaders must establish key results that are directly related to safety. Zero, Zero, Zero is a great example. It is meaningful since it directly impacts employee wellbeing and the company’s revenue margins, it is memorable since it is articulated in a simple, catchy phrase, and it is measurable since its success can be easily quantified.

As Zero, Zero, Zero was, key results should be disseminated throughout an organization via top-down communication. Every member of the organization — from interns and entry-level associates to C-suite executives — should be able to recite its key results at a moment’s notice.

2: Optimize Workplace Safety Protocols and Processes

Before launching organization-wide training initiatives, leaders must ensure that safety protocols and processes are optimized for effectiveness and are likely to take hold throughout the organization.

Consider surveying all members of the organization in order to source honest opinions regarding the effectiveness of current processes. Exchanging and soliciting honest feedback from all employees not only promotes process improvement, but also conveys to employees that organizational leaders value their input, which in turn encourages greater employee engagement and accountability.

To develop the most efficient and effective safety protocols in the workplace, leaders must take it upon themselves to practice collaborative, creative problem-solving. Most importantly, the strategy driving this process must be aimed at shaping employees’ beliefs and behaviors in a way that catalyzes the achievement of safety-related key results.

3: Educate and Train Employees Around Workplace Safety

Once workplace safety protocols have been optimized to influence employees’ beliefs and behaviors, leaders can start rolling out training that enables their employees to put their vision into practice.

Leaders should craft training initiatives with the goal of creating meaningful experiences for employees, which, as The Results Pyramid explains, inform the beliefs they hold, which underlie behaviors, which ultimately drive results.

When leaders create powerful experiences for team members that foster the beliefs needed to improve safety — by telling success stories, celebrating employees who consistently model desired beliefs and behaviors, and more — they operationalize change from within by affecting employee mindsets. These experiences sow the seeds of a culture of safety.

4: Proactively Manage and Maintain a Culture of Safety

Leaders cannot assume their work is finished once they’ve trained their employees on safety best practices — or even after they’ve successfully established an organization-wide belief in the value of workplace safety.

Defined as the collective effect of the normative mindsets, values, beliefs, and behaviors that characterize an organization, company culture is constantly evolving, and thus requires attentive and ongoing management.

Leaders remain proactive about cultivating experiences for employees that demonstrate attitudes and actions that generate desired organizational results. When it comes to bolstering safety in the workplace, this means recognizing employees who go above and beyond to promote employee and customer safety, sharing inspiring stories of safety “wins,” and seeking regular feedback from all employees regarding the effectiveness of existing protocols and processes.

Reinforcing the Business Case for Workplace Safety

Leaders position their organizations to meet benchmarks like Zero, Zero, Zero by following this roadmap: making safety a key result, collaborating to improve safety protocols and processes, training employees to embody beliefs and take actions that promote safety, and actively managing company culture to maintain a focus on safety.

When manufacturing organizations prioritize the safety, health, and wellbeing of employees, distributors, and customers, they not only minimize work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, but establish themselves as trustworthy organizations that value human life.

As a result, employees are more likely to exercise caution at every juncture of the manufacturing pipeline, which improves processes, increases operational efficiency, and ultimately strengthens Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization, or EBITDA. What’s more, focusing on safety augments a brand’s message, generating greater brand trust, promoting high levels of employee and customer retention, and positioning the organization to enter new markets and expand its client base.

All these factors come together to lay the groundwork for high performance and sustained organizational growth. While optimizing workplace safety is crucial for guaranteeing the wellbeing of every employee and customer, it also represents a unique opportunity for manufacturing organizations to improve operability and maximize topline performance.

Tracy Skousen is senior partner, president International Division, and senior vice president of the Accountability Business Unit at Partners In Leadership.