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Building a Business Case for Safety in an Era of Change

Change is in the air. Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, it’s important to acknowledge that the changes in the regulatory landscape may impact how companies decide to manage employee health and safety. One school of thought purports that fewer regulations will further challenge EHS professionals to gain buy-in from the C-suite when it comes to prioritizing EHS performance as a strategic objective, resulting in budget and manpower reduction.

So how do we respond to this change? We adapt. In the words of Stephen Hawking, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”.  Just as the landscape is shifting, it’s time to change how we position health and safety management within an organization.

The potential of reduced citations and fines intensifies the need to communicate the injury-related savings potential of your health and safety program. Supplement the soft benefits of safety, such as employee engagement with more tangible benefits like increased profits. Yes, it’s okay to talk about worker safety and money in the same sentence – OSHA does it all the time, estimating that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers' compensation costs alone.

The steps outlined below are tried and true methods that have been employed to change the perception of the health and safety function from cost center to value-driver. 

  1. Establish the need – Evaluate and quantify your company’s injury costs to get some facts that describe your company’s current state. What is your average cost per injury? If you don't know, talk to your Workers’ Compensation provider. This is money leaking from your company’s profits.
  2. Use industry data to support your argument – OSHA isn’t the only organization singing the financial praises of incident prevention. Check out the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts Report or the ASSE’s White Paper on Return on Safety Investment for research findings that support your business case.
  3. Produce a plan – Items one and two establish the “why” of safety. Whether you are lobbying for extra funding, or just trying to sustain your department’s current backing, upper management will want to see your “how”.
  4. Establish attainable goals – Large, long-term goals drive passion, but smaller goals are going to help you validate your program and gain momentum in the short-term. You need both to inspire and reassure the C-suite as well as your team and the general workforce. Pete Bussey of LNS Research endorses the approach, “think big, start small” – this is the best way establish and gain momentum for your program.

Start promoting your health and safety department as a revenue generator – because it is.

Have you had success communicating the business case of your health and safety department? Please share your approach with a comment below!

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