Building a Better brand with Solid Safety Practices

June is National Safety Month—a great time to review your organization’s safety policies and vision to help ensure they move your brand forward. And although “safety” may be something more often associated with industries, such as construction,  transportation, aviation, trucking, and manufacturing, every single company is affected by good (or bad) safety practices. 

Reputation can make or break your brand. But while strategies for marketing and advertising abound, one often overlooked factor in creating a positive perception of a company and its products is safety.

Where none of us wants to be is on the defense after an incident occurs, which means being proactive is imperative if we want to protect and enhance our brand image. Crisis management, which happens after an incident or threat occurs, is different than risk management, which involves proactively putting in place the policies and procedures that stave off incidents and threats. The latter is where we want to be to provide maximum value to our brand.

Impressions everyone

Good brand value helps companies attract better employees, entice consumers to buy their products and services, and enhance their revenues. Conversely, a brand whose value is diminished can expect the opposite.

In their Harvard Business Review article “Reputation and Its Risks,” authors Robert G. Eccles, Scott C. Newquist, and Roland Schatz note that just one negative event can have a large impact on a company even if it has been perceived positively in the marketplace. They cite BP, which suffered reputational blows after a March 2005 refinery fire and explosion in Texas that killed 15 people and a pipeline leak in Alaska in 2006. BP blamed the refinery incident on lax operating practices; federal investigators claimed cost-cutting also was a factor. Regardless, reputation damage from these incidents was extensive.

By contrast, Qantas is an example of a company whose name has become synonymous with safety. Once again in 2021, it was named the safest airline by, which cited Qantas’ initiative in being “the first or second (airline) to introduce the 16 major safety enhancements introduced in the past 60 years.” This focus has made the Australian airline an icon of excellence.

Physical and psychological safety

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has had its share of challenges in the safety arena.  Most recently, the company has come under fire for a higher-than-normal injury rate of employees at its warehouse facilities. To help untarnish its reputation, the company has invested hundreds of millions the past year in safety enhancements, including in the recent rollout of its “WorkingWell” employee safety and injury prevention program. 

With any safety program, top-down corporate mandates have a limited influence on employees. To get more buy-in and active participation, HR and safety managers need to enlist employees as collaborators in adopting safety measures. Employees also need to feel safe in reporting actual or perceived safety violations without fear of retaliation or humiliation. This “psychological safety” – the belief that one won’t be punished for speaking up – not only creates a culture where employees feel safe, but it also encourages them to become part of the broader solution. 

Notably, when Google conducted a study of high-performing teams several years ago, it discovered that instilling a culture where employees feel “safe” to share ideas and identify issues without fear of repercussions leads to higher employee engagement and retention, which enhances a company’s brand internally and externally. 

Self-reporting and assessment can be done on an individual level; another approach is to set up a safety committee that brings together employees from all levels and job descriptions in a respectful environment. This ensures that prevention and mitigation policies and processes reflect the needs and concerns of team members across the organization. 

At the same time, collaboration only works when organizations establish a sense of trust. Employees who fear lost wages may not report safety violations or injuries. Similarly, an employee may come to work tired after caring for a sick child all night. Businesses can mitigate fears and create psychological safety with policies that offer, for example, flexibility to adjust job responsibilities for the day, shift trading, or paid leave.

Top-notch safety programs are a blend of clear policies, effective reporting, and proactive prevention. Formal, written safety policies only take companies so far, and many businesses’ good intentions are hampered because they rely on paper-based safety systems that are more effective at reporting what happened than preventing incidents in the first place. 

The companies most successful at building a brand anchored on safety and ensuring customers’ confidence take advantage of digital environment, health and safety (EHS) solutions. Using EHS systems like SafetyTek, they can not only report quickly on safety practices, compliance, events, and other related information but also predict and address potential safety hazards, and ensure that employees are well-trained on safety best practices. 

The bottom line

Plain and simple, safety is good for business. An effective safety practice protects employees and raises their morale; it also creates positive impressions about the brand, which can raise its value in the eyes of consumers and shareholders. From health protection protocols to ergonomic/mechanical safety and a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable and valued, sound safety practices are vital to a company’s success and viability.

Make Health and Safety a Competitive Advantage

The signs of a strengthening economy are everywhere as industries that had to shut down or significantly scale back operations last year are roaring back to life. In the United States alone, gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2021 grew 6.4%, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the wake of this growth, companies across a range of industries are competing for employees, customers, and market share. Yet many of these organizations are missing out on one of the most important competitive factors in today's market: employee health and safety.

 Let's look at how having strong health and safety practices in place can complement other factors—such as quality products and service, innovation, timely delivery, convenience, and attractive pricing—in gaining a competitive edge. 

Competing for Employees

Today, many businesses are struggling to attract and retain employees even as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Reports an unemployment rate that has stubbornly hovered just above 6.1%. Larger corporations are tackling the challenge by increasing compensation. For example, Amazon announced that it is increasing the wages of 500,000 workers, and in many cases, the company is offering $1,000 signing bonuses. Similarly, McDonalds is providing $500 signing bonuses at its corporate-owned locations. 

 The financial incentives aren't necessarily leading everyone to line up for jobs in droves. Some of today's unemployed are parents who cannot afford to go back to work until their children fully return to the classroom. Millions of others are not yet convinced that the pandemic is under enough control for them to safely take jobs that require them to be onsite. Moreover, many of the unemployed are rethinking their careers. According to a 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center, 66% of unemployed people have "seriously considered" changing their field of work.

 All of these factors point to the need for organizations to promote both opportunity for growth and quality of life in recruiting employees. The latter means having strong health and safety measures in place. After all, behind the statistics for workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are the very real suffering and financial hardship these events can cause for workers and their families.

 The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends focusing on proactive strategies for ensuring health and safety. "Traditional approaches are often reactivethat is, problems are addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes sick, a new standard or regulation is published, or an outside inspection finds a problem that must be fixed," OSHA states. "Recommended practices recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is a far more effective approach."

Promoting compliance with OSHA health and safety standards is one way to demonstrate to current and prospective employees is that the company is making their welfare a priority. Another is conducting safety tours—live or via video—with job candidates to dispel impressions of dirty and unsafe work environments. A third is to market back the safety training, reporting, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in place to demonstrate the organization’s safety culture. Finally, the use of modern cloud and mobile-based safety training and management can attract younger candidates who expect similarities between their work and consumer experiences.


Attracting Customers

Whether an organization’s customers are consumers or other businesses, purchase decisions increasingly go beyond cost. There is an increasing awareness and demand for corporate responsibility that extends across employees, the community, and the environment. 

For example, in May 2020, a coalition of Iowa groups called for a ”Meatless May” consumer boycott of meat to demand better working conditions for employees in crowded factories that had become Covid-19 super-spreaders.

Among business customers, there’s also growing demand for suppliers and partners to ensure safe work conditions. Notably, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across a range of industries understand that their own brand value can be helped or hindered by how well subcontractors or suppliers protect their employees. Beyond brand value, there’s also the risk of litigation, for example when there is an injury with a subcontractor’s employee working onsite for a construction company. As part of risk mitigation, many businesses will look at OSHA compliance and injury rates factors when choosing with whom to partner.

For highly regulated industries—notably food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and medical products—safety is key to federal compliance. In these sectors, injuries can potentially cause contamination that requires whole batches or production runs to be rejected or recalled. The Wall Street Journal noted that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report on Emergent BioSolutions did not maintain the plant in a clean and sanitary condition and that workers failed to adhere to proper procedures for wearing sterile gowns. Emergent is the contract manufacturer that contaminated 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The Emergent is one example of how failing to adhere to safety procedures at one company can disrupt business continuity for its customer. There are many more cases where injuries to workers have disrupted not only a manufacturer’s business but that of one or more customers. Anytime a machine or piece of equipment is involved in an injury, it needs to be pulled offline until a full review and reporting are completed and any required adjustments to improve safety have been made. Depending on the set-up, the review of the machinery or equipment could put a pause on the entire production line, delaying the delivery of parts and in turn delaying the customer’s ability to bring products to market. 

Companies can compete on safety and ensure business customers’ confidence by using digital environment, health and safety (EHS) solution to quickly report on safety practices, compliance, events and other related information. The live or virtual safety tours with job candidates can also be used to market back safety practices to prospective customers.


Growing Market Share

The money that companies pay as a result of employee injuries is money that cannot be invested in areas that contribute to growing the business’ market share—from research and development, to employees, facilities, equipment, and other capital investments.

Consider the 2020 Liberty Mutual Safety Index, which notes that the top 10 causes of workplace injuries cost U.S. businesses over $1 billion per week. Looking more broadly, Warren K. Brown, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), has noted that companies spend about $170 billion a year on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses.

OSHA violations, alone, start at $13,494 per incident, and the maximum penalty is ten-fold at $134,927. Then there are the costs to increased workers’ compensation claims, lawsuits, and lost business due to unmet deadlines or damaged reputations. 

Those businesses that proactively put strong workplace health and safety measures in place—and avoid the high costs of health and safety incidents—will be best positioned to invest in delivering the innovative products and services that drive growing market adoption.