Most businesses are under the impression that pay is the primary motivating factor in the workplace. But, for the vast majority of workers, there’s more to a job than just the amount of cash it allows them to bank at the end of the month. One of the most important, non-pay factors, is of course safety. It’s safety that makes the difference between being able to turn up to work happy to face the challenges of the day, and turning up to work wondering whether you’re going to go home in the evening in one piece.
A positive health and safety culture can actually be an enormous asset to a company. Take Marlin Steel, a big steel producing company where employees have to regularly deal with heavy equipment and molten metal. The company, headed by Drew Greenblatt, decided a few years back that it wanted to foster a culture where workers weren’t worried that they were going to go home at the end of the day missing several of their fingers. The company recently announced that it had managed to go 1,500 days straight without a single incident at its production facility. The reason for this, Greenblatt suggests, is the fact that the business takes the safety seriously from the get go. As soon as employees arrive at the plant, they’re greeted by an enormous green sign that proudly says, “safety begins here.” This has become a part of the company culture, and employees are actually boastful of the safe environs of the factory.
Visits by the authorities to inspect the facilities are no longer seen as some sort of threat to the business. Quite the reverse. Greenblatt sees these inspections as an opportunity to learn more about safety features and fire protection services. Even though it’s a government agency, there’s still stuff that they can teach businesses, apparently.
Greenblatt’s focus on safety began when he was introduced to a glass maker in his area who had an exemplary safety record. The factory, which was full of some of the most dangerous objects in industry, like sheet glass, band saws and welding machines, should have been a health and safety nightmare. But instead, it had been transformed into a safe environment through some rather clever initiatives.
Perhaps the most important of these was the fact that employees were invited to take part in regular health and safety committees. Here, they were able to lay out their concerns in front of management, and management would quickly react and implement new safety protocols. What’s more, when employees hear suggestions coming from their peers, rather than from on high, they’re actually a lot more likely to respect them.
Greenblatt soon replicated these measures in his own plant, following on from what he had learned from the glass factory. Devoting time to people, he found, made a big difference to the safety culture within his business. It’s not always a case of throwing money at the problem, he says. It’s about doing stuff that actually fixes health and safety issues.