Can companies really attain zero injuries in the workplace? Many executives, managers, supervisors and workers don't think so.

Imagine for a moment that one of your children has secured his or her first job with an HVAC or sheet metal company. Your child calls you after the first day at work and says, "At the orientation today, they said there is a likelihood that I will either be injured or die on the job while working for this company."

What would your reaction be? If you were like most parents, you'd tell your child not to work for that company. After all, who would want any family member to work in a company where the assumption was that people would be injured or even killed?

When you say, "Zero injuries are not possible in our workplace," you tell employees that they are likely to be hurt or die at work.

The solution? To attain zero injuries in the workplace, you must have a goal of zero injuries. Even more than that, you must believe zero injuries are possible and have that belief become the entire company's philosophy. The solution may seem simple, but it works.

Current state

This is an increasingly demanding and complex business environment. Managers and employees must make tough choices daily when it comes to production, quality, safety and health. We often feel like we're being barraged with regulations and rules. In the midst of all this, despite our best efforts, workers are getting injured and dying on the job.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than 5,700 employees died because of workplace injuries and illnesses in 2004. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 4.4 million workers were injured or became ill in 2003. Consequently, companies spend more than $50 billion a year on such events, making the United States less competitive in the world market.

With all this money going toward safety-related issues, why are workers still becoming injured, ill or dying on the job? Many organizations do not have an overarching safety philosophy. The demands of competition, globalization, mergers and acquisitions often take priority in the minds of managers and executives, leaving safety issues to rest on the back burner.

Many executives, managers and supervisors do not have a safety philosophy because they don't understand the concepts of safety and health management. Nor do they understand how to approach safety in the context of the work that they manage or supervise. While many of these leaders are highly educated in management and leadership concepts, most of them have had little training in integrating health and safety management principles into their everyday work.

Managers and executives can create sustainable, positive change when it comes to safety and health. They do this when they develop a philosophy that promotes safety and health and de-emphasizes the current focus on compliance. The philosophy must give equal weight to five areas: management commitment, employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and health and safety training.

Too often, organizations focus on only one or two of these areas. This is a great disservice to the employees because the lack of balance and absence of an overall philosophy causes chaos and faulty behaviors that directly or indirectly lead to employee injury or death.

Higher standards

Adopting high safety standards is easier than you may think. In fact, all it takes is four simple steps:

  1. Understand the five areas that must be covered by the standard:
    • Management commitment. Ensure outstanding protection to employees through effective systems and personal actions by executives, managers and supervisors.
    • Employee involvement. Worker interest and involvement in the safety and health processes at work including participation in audits, accident and incident investigations, suggestion programs and safety committees.
    • Worksite analysis. A systematic approach to assessing and managing worksite hazards.
    • Hazard prevention and control. A commitment to workplace health and safety through preventative equipment maintenance, workplace health processes, hazard-tracking methods and emergency preparations.
    • Safety and health training. Ensures workers know how to perform all aspects of their job to prevent work-related injury or illness.
  2. Develop a safety philosophy in the organization. Ask yourself:
    • What does my organization really believe about worker safety and health?
    • Do the executives, managers and supervisors understand their moral and legal obligations about safety and health?
    • Do we really believe the company can have zero injuries?
    The answers to these questions will tell you what your company's safety philosophy is. Realize that you may have to work to educate leaders and get their thinking aligned with the importance of creating a workplace where safety and worker health are paramount concerns, but the effort is worth it.
  3. Determine the current state of the company's health and safety management program. After analysis of where your company is, develop a vision of where the company should be.
  4. Reveal the gap between the current state and the future state of health and safety for your organization. Only then can you begin to take purposeful actions to fill the gaps and create an environment where everyone can go home every day without injury.

Having a zero injury workplace is possible. If you can lead your team to go one hour without an injury, then you can lead them through hours that turn into days, weeks, months and years. Remember, the greatest legacy leaders can leave is that they ran a profitable business where everyone got to go home every day without injury.