Actions Speak Louder than Words

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So you’ve jumped on the safety train. Your senior executive has written and signed a statement publically professing the goal of being a safe company. You purchased safety posters and strategically placed them throughout the organization, formed some safety teams to handle the few safety events reported, implemented some policy changes, and started publishing a safety newsletter. All is good. You are well on your way to having a Safety Management System (SMS) in place.

Certainly all those actions are great and a good start to being a safety conscious company embracing SMS, but are there other company actions overshadowing and even negating your safety efforts? Employees see two things in the company that pertain to safety: what is said and what is done and measured. They see you talking about safety, but when it comes down to it they see that nothing has changed. This is especially hammered home when the company releases its monthly/quarterly reports. The number one thing you see on these reports is on-time performance, aircraft availability, and dollars made. Very infrequently, if ever, do you see anything about this new safety goal? So what does the company care about – just moving metal and making money? These items dwarf the safety goal. Safety isn’t measured or touted, so apparently it’s not important.

I once had a professor tell a story about a CEO at a company and how he showed his commitment to safety.

A new CEO had been hired at a company and was attending his first monthly/quarterly company meeting. All the department heads were nervous about what this new executive would say. The CEO walks in right on time and sits down in front and starts the meeting. He welcomes everyone and thanks them for being there and for their hard work. In typical fashion he wants to hear department reports. The first department he calls on is Safety. Shocked, having never been called on to report before yet alone the first one, the Safety Manager stands up and makes his report. The CEO asks some pertinent questions and thanks him. At this point the CEO gathers up his material and begins to leave the meeting. Everyone is confused. Did Safety say something wrong? Was he mad? One Vice President asks the CEO if there is a problem. The CEO replies, “No. All the production and financial matters I can read in reports. What I can’t do is be responsible for injured or lost employees. Safety is important to me and it should be to you, too.” With that the CEO left the room.

Now whether this is a true story or a fabricated teaching tool, I don’t know, but the point strikes home. What do your actions say about your company’s stance towards safety?

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