Workplace safety is directly correlated to quality. This isn’t conjecture; in fact, published studies consistently back it up. In a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Operations Management, for example, Ajay Das and others found that when the safety climate of an organization declines, “There is more scrap, more rework, and reduced reliability and durability of products.”
Not surprisingly, the reverse is also true. Companies that pay close attention to quality tend to have much better track records when it comes to worker safety. In a 2017 study by Sijeong Lim and Aseem Prakash, for example, it was found that increased adoption of ISO 9001 standards correlates with improved safety in the workplace.
Quality and safety, therefore, go hand in hand, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits both employees and customers. Naturally, these two factors also impact profitability as well. This has powerful implications when it comes to environmental health and safety (EHS) programs, which in many organizations are viewed as cost centers.
That cost-oriented view of EHS is shortsighted. In fact, data suggests that EHS initiatives have a positive impact on quality and productivity and that when implemented correctly, they can generate a net positive ROI.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors that are driving this phenomenon.
A culture of caring motivates excellence
What truly motivates workers? Most people will tell you that high pay and generous benefits provide the greatest incentives for high performance. In reality, the great majority of workers are inspired to perform well when they find meaning in their jobs, – and when they understand that their contributions are appreciated by management.
The converse is also true. Ajay Das notes that “when employees are in an unsafe setting, they will not be motivated to achieve other organizational goals.”
Ultimately, every business is about relationships and human motivation, first and foremost. Smart managers have known for a long time that taking good care of your workforce is the key to getting good, consistent results. In other words, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
A culture of safety excellence communicates appreciation; which, in turn, drives better performance on the job.
Safety keeps experienced people on the job
When an employee suffers an injury on the job, it often means spending days or weeks away from work to recover. That translates to pain and suffering for the employee, higher workers’ compensation insurance rates for the employer, and considerable disruption for everyone involved.
Aside from the obvious human costs, safety incidents also have a negative impact on quality and productivity. Losing an experienced worker, even temporarily, disrupts the status quo. Even after an injured worker has returned, there may be a need to reassign them to a different job. When an employee is sidelined or reassigned, the team loses the benefit of that person’s experience and perspective.
Major injuries and fatalities can be personally devastating, negatively impacting morale and leading to the permanent loss of a valued team member. Hiring and training new employees takes time and costs money. During a new employee’s onboarding process, quality may be sub-par, delivering poor-quality results.
Quality and safety are both about empowerment
It’s also worth noting, quality management and EHS programs are both rooted in the idea that employees should be empowered to solve problems on the front lines.
When Taiichi Ohno first introduced the Andon cord at Toyota, he revolutionized the workplace. For the first time, employees had the ability, – and the permission, – to halt the assembly line if they noticed a problem or defect. Since then, quality managers have understood the value of empowering their workers to solve problems.
Effective health & safety programs operate on very much the same philosophy. Managers should put tools and processes in place that make it possible for their employees to act in ways that are consistent with their well-being, and should give them the latitude to act when it’s appropriate.
This speaks to the question of priorities. In many companies, there is a misperception that quality and safety operate in opposition to productivity. In other words, there’s a myth that high output necessarily means lower quality and/or lower attention to worker safety. In fact, the opposite is true.
Companies that prioritize safety are better managed
The interplay between quality and safety is ultimately about operational excellence. When management articulates the company’s commitment to continuous improvement, and when they back that up with concrete measures aimed at improving worker safety, they are acting in a way that is consistent not only with the well-being of their employees but also with quality excellence.
The key point here is that words and actions must be in alignment. Employees can intuitively see when management’s stated objectives fail to line up with actual workplace practices. In the study cited at the beginning of this article, the authors pointed out that when workers’ perceptions of on-the-job safety don’t match up with management’s thinking, quality inevitably suffers. Top-performing organizations walk the walk and talk the talk.
It is entirely possible to deliver high levels of quality and ensure employee safety while maintaining high productivity. At Intellect, we help companies optimize their quality management and EHS programs with the most flexible, configurable software in the industry. To learn more about how our software can empower your organization and help safeguard your workforce, contact us today.