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 matter...to 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 AirlineRatings.com, 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.