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Does Your Company Really “Get” Safety?

Dec. 20, 2022
Learn how to create a safe workplace with zero injuries and deaths.

In the past 30 years we have come a long way in creating safe workplaces in the United States. The numbers are better in some ways, but we still have lots of work to do. When I am presenting to a group, the audiences find it appalling that in 1992 it was not unusual for a company of 4,000-5,000 employees to have a goal of 35-40 OSHA recordables annually. About that time, the industry was challenged with the goal of zero OSHA recordables and to say they were skeptical is an understatement. One such conversation in 1992 went like this:

A client called and asked, “Can’t we just hire a contractor to do the high-risk work, so our employees are not at risk?”

“So, you would be willing to allow a contractor to kill or injure an employee to get the job done?”

“Well…since you put it that way…that doesn’t sound good…”

This was the beginning of my passionate cry to set a goal of zero through responsible safety management. For many, it was a paradigm shift because they believed that zero OSHA recordables was impossible. During this time, it took a lot of discussion to convince senior management to put the resources in place to make this happen. When presented with the plan to create a consistent process for reducing the risk to injury, many got excited while others waited to see if this was a fad.

Today we would be disgusted by a company that believed that injuries and death are just part of industry. New safety applications for computers and smart phones abound, not to mention the wearable safety garments and devices that stop deaths and reduce injuries on the job. Safety processes that include safety committees representing cross sections of organizations are created. Meetings are held to share concepts for mitigating hazards and awards are handed out for those who “get safety” at the highest level of the organization. All of this is an evolution of safety that continues and will continue as long as people are exposed to work situations where they can be killed or injured.

So, what is the common thread that runs through the industry from 1992 until today?

Being responsible and doing what is supposed to be done to mitigate hazards and guarantee no death or injury is still the challenge. It is as old as the blame game gets. Unfortunately, blame is a human trait we all share at some level. Nobody wants to be the reason for their own injury or the injury or death of another human. The real trick is getting people to accept responsibility by holding them accountable for what they commit to doing.

I have spoken at many companies where they hung a banner with a cool logo and theme stating, “I am responsible!” that everyone attending signed. The problem is that getting everyone to truly accept responsibility and understand it takes more than just a Sharpie pen to demonstrate commitment. Workshops where time is spent in conversation to pursue understanding takes resources that most companies struggle to provide. I have had my share of conversations with someone hiring me that asks, “Can you get this done in 30-45 minutes? We have a lot of technical stuff to cover from HR and Safety, and we have to show them how to fill out request forms on the computer in 4 hours.” Really?

Changing a work culture to believe that every injury or death in the workplace is preventable takes commitment at all levels. You cannot just say, “Let’s do this…” and expect to hit the mark. First comes the target, then comes the reflection, and then comes the plan, followed by the action.

When I am working with a company, the first thing I discuss with leaders is their vision for safety. What are the results they would dream of achieving? Then we begin to identify the company’s “current state of safety”. Confirming the current state is usually my job since nobody can really “see” what needs to be “seen” like a third-party can. Many times, my report is a shocker and sometimes managers and executives deny what is found. The leaders that really want improvement are the ones who “get it” and say, “What’s next?”

Then I say, “Let’s visit your dream results and establish what you want the future state of safety to be in your organization”. Once we establish the future state then we begin planning and developing continuous improvement tools. Interestingly, I always see excitement and energy that was not evident before we started. The result is reduced risk and most of the time increased production. When you think about it, it just makes sense!

If your organization is wondering where to take safety in the next 12 months just get together and ask, “Where are we today, and where do we hope to go from here?” It’s not a bad place to start. The companies I work with now are encouraged to not just target zero OSHA recordables but, “Create a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt”. This is done by creating an environment of trust where everyone is willing to take responsibility for safety. When this is accomplished and the discussions continue, the result is a workplace where nobody gets hurt.

About the Author

Carl Potter | CSP, CMC

Carl Potter is a certified safety professional and certified management consultant who has consulted to the industry for over 30 years.  He has authored 8 books and countless articles. He is a sought-after conference speaker and consults to a variety of industries to help them achieve workplaces where it’s difficult to get hurt. He may be reached at and you can follow him on LinkedIn: