The Cost of Safety

May 05, 2015
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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Google “worker safety” and you’ll find many headlines like this one: The higher costs of providing workers’ compensation benefits in risky occupations may lead employers to improve safety in order to lower their insurance costs.

That’s the traditional business view – that safety is a cost issue for business. It is, but not in the way that you might think.

Our BW Integrated Systems division, based in Romeoville, Ill, recently partnered with Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Co to provide a palletizing machine to help package their nationally distributed craft beer.

The reason they wanted the new case palletizer was because the manual manner in which they were packaging their product was quite labor intensive. “We looked at the labor, we looked at the fact that at our volume we were hurting people,” said Plant Manager Jim Weatherwax. “We didn’t have any injuries, but people left here a little more tired than we wanted them to be.”

Oskar Blues, like Barry-Wehmiller, values their people and puts them first. The cost of safety is not how it hits your pocketbook; it’s about doing whatever it takes to take care of your friends.

In 2003, Barry-Wehmiller was faced with this very situation when one of our financial officers noticed that our workers’ compensation claims were skyrocketing. We had recently articulated a vision of our culture in our Guiding Principles of Leadership where we aspired to “measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.” For the first time, we faced a traditional business challenge, rising workers’ compensation cost, from a new perspective. The cost issue was more than dollars and cents, it was the cost of getting injured to those people we care about.

When we gathered a team of individuals from the front lines of our manufacturing organization to discuss the matter, we challenged ourselves to not just look at this as a financial issue, but through the lens of our newly stated company values.

The central question, however, was not “How can we lower our workmen’s comp costs?” Instead, the focus of the discussion would be, in light of our Guiding Principles of Leadership, “If we truly measure success by the way we touch the lives of people, then isn’t safety as simple as not wanting our friends to get hurt?”

At the end of the two-day conference, the team had come up with a new vision for safety called the Barry-Wehmiller Safety Covenant. Safety was elevated from a company priority to a company value. Team members all over the world were inspired to take steps to help their friends. They began consistently sharing issues and solutions company-wide. It completely transformed the safety culture throughout our organization. The immediate results were a significant reduction in lost-time accidents and overall injuries, and to this day, our insurance rates are half of the industry average.

However, it wasn’t about cost. Our people were inspired to act, not in order to save the company money, but because they wanted to make sure their friends returned home to their loved ones safe. That inspiration is profound and it has become a daily commitment in our organization.

The statement at the end of the Safety Covenant is this: “Our objective is to ensure that every life we touch arrives home healthy, safe and fulfilled.” And that’s the goal of a Truly Human company. At the end of the day, it’s about caring for your friends because they are the real bottom line.


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