There are two pervasive mindsets when it comes to workplace safety. And each one creates vastly different work environments.

How do you perceive safety? As a necessary expense, or a valuable investment?

Here are the two predictable outcomes you can expect based on each mindset.

“Safety is a Necessary Expense”

This perception of safety reveals this story about you and your workplace:

1)     Your primary objective is to ensure you meet compliance requirements. Your employees are told to work safely because “OSHA says so.”

This objective almost always results in a punitive or police state. As a safety professional, you no longer are a safety resource but simply a “safety cop” or enforcer of rules. Your employees are not engaged in safety and have become tattle tails who rat out their peers in hope of securing a better position. Any form of discipline for “not following safety rules” is from you “catching” someone in the act of not wearing PPE and, secondary, always follows an injury or equipment damage that can point to someone’s poor performance.

Employee morale is low, absenteeism is high, and tardiness for work or from breaks and meals is rampant. This always leads to safety complaint reports to OSHA by those who have become the spokespersons for the majority. They are willing to take shortcuts and, as a result, the quality of your services or products continues to falter. A walkthrough observation shows housekeeping at its worst with increased hazards of fire, trips/slips/falls, and lower productivity.

Injuries are more frequent and severe as employees “forget” to wear the appropriate PPE for assigned tasks. There is no current risk assessment or actions in place to correct identified hazards and managers refuse to wear the same PPE that employees are required to wear when in hazardous areas. Of course, the PPE is based on the lowest price, meaning it is neither comfortable nor functional outside of maybe meeting compliance requirements.

Your role, after first policing the work areas, is to put out fires – figuratively and perhaps, literally. Incident investigations always conclude with the root cause being, “the employee was not paying attention” or “not following procedures.” Investigations occur only after someone is injured. Otherwise, they are left to “just get the job done.” Like with a three-year-old child, you simply remind people to “be careful” which means they can do what they want until someone gets hurt.

Your OSHA written plans are downloaded templates that do not actually address specific processes or practices within your organization. Safety training is non-existent or lacks any measure of quality. If there are annual evacuation or emergency drills, there is never a drill evaluation, and the drill is poorly documented.

“Safety is a Valuable Investment.”

It has been proven that when an employer perceives safety as an investment and an actual value of the organization, it experiences significant benefits. For every dollar invested in safety, there is 4-5 times return on investment (ROI). These are direct savings not just monetarily, but also in employee performance.

2)     Your primary objective is to identify and address workplace hazards. Your employees are engaged and participate in your safe workplace through enhancing processes, procedures, and employee practices. You have a thriving safety culture that continues to demonstrate success.

This objective results in cooperation and participation at every level within the organization. You are the safety professional and a resource for being successful. You earn the respect of your team, and they are willing to approach you with ideas and concerns, knowing you have their best interest. Your “write-ups” are recognition awards when you observe team members working safely and correcting hazards. Employees remind each other to wear their PPE if it is missing after breaks or meals.

Employee morale is high, and employees are proud of their work areas and accomplishments. Housekeeping practices demonstrate the employees’ pride and safe working. The employee safety suggestion program flourishes and there is a tracking system in place to show improvements and successes when hazards are removed or reduced. Safety practices are identified in the procedures and are willingly followed.

Injuries continue to go down, both in frequency and severity. Hazards are found and corrected before a serious injury is allowed to progress. Management leads by example and always wears the appropriate PPE in work areas while encouraging others to continue in their safe practices. Employees do not fear their supervisors and managers, but rather cooperate and ensure everyone follows safe work practices.

Your role, after recognizing team members who follow safe practices, is to lead safety initiatives that continue to benefit the entire organization. Employees provide front-line experience and suggestions that are heard and acted upon. All incidents are investigated to find the root cause, contributing factors, and protective/preventive measures that make a task or work area safer or healthier.

Work areas include signage that reminds people of specific hazards. OSHA written plans are specific to the tasks and work location and are regularly reviewed by employees and updated, as needed. Safety training is effective; employees know the hazards they face and the proper procedures and PPE that keeps them safe.

Your risk assessment identifies task and work area hazards along with the protective measures that eliminate or reduce those identified risks. The right PPE is purchased and provided to meet the specific hazards and feel/fit, form, and function of the PPE ensures people will wear it. Employees are engaged in the PPE selection process, including sampling and trialing, providing input and feedback. Employees understand the need for emergency drills, and proactively offer improvements and suggestions to make the emergency response better.

So, between the two mindsets – which is yours? Which of these scenarios do you want? You can be the organization for which no one wants to work, or you can be the world-class employer with a great safety culture and excellent employee recruiting and retention.

The choice is yours.