OHS Exists Beyond Reputational Risk

OHS Exists Beyond Reputational Risk

Occupational Health & Safety

Executives and Directors need to think beyond reputation as a motivator for occupational health & safety

Industries with a high degree of workplace dangers – such as construction or forestry – still follow very traditional business practices. As such, it is very common for workplace safety in these organizations to be motivated by the requirement to protect itself from the various legislative regulations and to avoid poor reputation resulting from workplace incidents. Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) of course, has evolved far beyond this frame of mind, yet the concern for reputational damage – and the media coverage that is assumed to follow – still exists as a major motivator for implementing baseline OHS practices.

The Motivation for Safety

A report from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on OHS compliance found that reputational damage and requirements to inform customers of workplace incidents (for example, Annual Reports) remained the leading motivators for revamping OHS practices:


“Respondents cite newspaper reports covering serious incidents and requirement to advise customers of incidents as the best way of increasing risk of reputational damage, followed by a requirement to report health and safety in company reports.”


The fact of the matter is that media coverage for workplace incidents has been on the decline over the years. Also, while there is continuing pressure to report workplace incidents to customers and shareholders through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, there remains no legislative requirements in either Canada or the US to do so.

So if the traditional methods of motivation for OHS policies have been diminishing, organizations need to be made aware of what contemporary motivators have risen. The fact is, strong safety cultures will have a momentously positive affect on employee morale, which quickly translates into increased productivity, retention, and – ultimately – healthier sales and profits.

The Dangers of Frugal Spending

The lacking in understanding of the aforementioned effects regarding safety culture is highlighted in another HSE report:


“…the interview findings obtained suggest that although the interviewed directors believed that a poor health and safety record could potentially impact on corporate reputation and profits, they did not, in contrast, believe that an excellent safety record enhances a company’s reputation.”


What this finding means is that Executives and Directors – whose primary role is to focus on the bottom line – may overlook the importance of OHS as a means to save money. While the mindset of cutting costs is a major focus in the current age of organizational austerity, the front-line worker ultimately loses when upper management believes they can be frugal with its safety culture. This translates into the exact opposite of the previously mentioned benefits of a strong safety culture; an increase in turnover, poor employee motivation, and declining profits.

It is more important now than it has even been for organizations to rethink their OHS practices and policies. The sooner Executives and Directors realize the importance of a strong workplace safety culture, the sooner they can begin reaping the benefits – allowing them to achieve their organizational objectives.