Worker Safety: “Focusing on worker safety can transform an entire organization and dramatically improve culture, quality, productivity, communication, and ultimately profits.” Paul O’Neill made this statement in 1987 when he took over as Chairman and CEO of Alcoa (Aluminum Company). When Paul finished his term as CEO twelve years later, Alcoa’s market value had increased from $3 billion to $27.5 billion, with net income rising from $200 million to just under $1.5 billion.
Paul joined Alcoa when it was in a state of decline, with failed product lines and an employee injury rate of 1.86 lost work days per 100 workers. At his first board meeting, he told investors he intended to make Alcoa the safest company in America and prioritize safety over profit. Many investors panicked and sold their stock, much to their later chagrin. He stated that Alcoa’s “…safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off…” Paul focused on one key parameter to measure success, the number of daily safety issues. He commented on his strategy: “I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can’t order people to change. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”
When a worker was hurt, Paul observed that they missed work for days to weeks to months, hampering productivity. His emphasis on having workers prioritize safety over efficiency paid off big time.
Remember the 1.86 lost work days statistic? He dropped it to 0.2 lost work days per 100 workers. By introducing a method of following safety procedures before every task, he implemented protocols for accountability, such as on-the-job work instructions, safety checklists, task management, and safety leaderboards. The process instilled a sense of a progressive and transformative safety culture in the workers. Only one year later, Alcoa reached a new record for its profits.
According to WorkClout, Paul’s influence not only increased Alcoa’s safety, productivity, and profit while positively affecting manufacturing. The number of annual fatal injuries in the manufacturing sector declined from 420 in 2003, to a low of 303 in 2017, and currently stands at 383 in 2021 (Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent data).
So how can you put proactive health and safety at the forefront of your business? Focus on non-monetary things, such as health and safety. Having workers engaged in safety affects everything down the supply chain. Try implementing these practical and positive recommendations in your workplace:
About the Author: Jed Douglas is a Certified Industrial Hygienist, a Certified Safety Professional, and a Professional Geologist, licensed in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona.
Mr. Douglas specializes in the health and safety of workforces. He performs indoor air quality investigations for chemical, physical, and biological contaminants, sound and noise studies, hearing protection program, ergonomic evaluation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) program compliance, chemical usage evaluation, global harmonization system implementation, confined space evaluation, lock-out/tag-out review, security auditing, emergency response plans and evacuation drills, respiratory protection program and fit testing, and training in various safety protocol. Reach out to Jed here or on LinkedIn.