Industryweek 21848 Safety Productivity Balance

Safety and Performance Excellence: Safety vs. Productivity: If Either Wins, Both Lose

May 23, 2017
Thinking safety can be ignored in production is akin to saying that efficiency and the cost of production don't matter.

The word "balance" does not find its way into many corporate strategy statements, but maybe it should. Some issues that tend to compete for priority are not mutually exclusive. Productivity and safety are examples of such issues. Balancing these two priorities tends to enhance both, while letting either one triumph over the other will not only damage these efforts but also create collateral damage in other areas of the organization. 

Thinking safety can be ignored in production is akin to saying that efficiency and the cost of production don't matter. A safety mishap severely can impact both the volume and cost of production like few other things can. The small gains made in production by shortcutting safety seem to be worthwhile until an accident occurs. Then the gains disappear or even become losses in many cases.

Lost productivity is not the only cost of safety failures. There are direct costs such as emergency response and medical care, lost time of employees in production, workers' compensation insurance premiums, potential fines from regulatory agencies and litigation from injured workers or their families. There also are possible indirect costs of accidents, such as reduced production due to using less-experienced workers in the absence of injured workers, lowered morale in the workplace, problems recruiting new workers and bad PR from news agencies.

Trying to create safety at the cost of productivity equally is destructive. Few organizational leaders truly want to be the safest company to ever go bankrupt.

Obviously, many methods of producing goods or services have inherent risks that cannot all be completely removed. A tolerance for a certain level of risk often is necessary to get anything done. The costs for total, conditional safety is too great for most organizations to bear and those who try often are replaced by those with a more realistic notion of safety.

Safety vs. Production

Many employees feel productivity pulls them in one direction while safety tugs in the other. The creation of this safety-vs-production dichotomy usually comes from one of three sources:

Lack of strategy: Effective strategy gives direction to everyday choices. The lack of strategy can cause confusion when two priorities seem to conflict. Workers who have been given no strategy have no vision of the relationship between safety and productivity that leaders would prefer. Leaders with no safety strategy often are specialists in one aspect of the business who tend to delegate the other aspects to specialists.

Such delegation creates silos, and safety is one of them. Silos create dichotomies that only overarching strategies can fully overcome. When supervisors direct production and safety professionals direct safety, workers are faced with choices that are incorrect or incomplete.

Read the full article on EHS Today, a companion site of IndustryWeek and part of Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain group.

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