What a Safe Workplace says about the Quality of its Work

August 15, 2013 | American Manufacturing, News, Publications & Events

From Drew Greenblatt's latest column on Inc.com about the importance of workplace safety:

Marlin Steel Drew GreenblattOn a recent visit to a Fortune 100 company, one of the world’s largest manufacturers, I asked the company president how he assesses the performance of his company as well as prospective vendors. He mentioned market share, cash flow and profit -- key indicators all -- but I was astounded at what he mentioned first: Safety.

"Have you ever heard of an unsafe shop being clean or making good quality products?" he asked.

It’s true. An obsession about safety in a workplace is a pretty reliable signal that the company is compulsive about other processes, such as making a quality product. If cleanliness is next to godliness, it’s also pretty close to industriousness and dependability.

Describing the robots in safety cages to visitors at Marlin Steel Describing the robots in safety cages to visitors at Marlin Steel

Before I bought Marlin Steel, I noticed that a couple of the factory workers were missing fingers. A couple others had lost eyes. The staff at the time didn’t seem frightened or unnerved by this, but it shocked me. On my first day on the job, I bought a bunch of safety glasses and insisted that everyone wear them. That didn’t go over well. I was met with resistance. Even in a place where industrial risk was painfully evident, workers considered the glasses intrusive and a pain. But buy-in came eventually along with a realization that a safer company is a healthier company, in more ways than one.

My company has now gone more than four years without a lost-time accident, more than 1,700 consecutive days. The benefits to workers are obvious and significant: better health, less injury, less pain, less disruption. There were additional benefits to the organization that I probably could have predicted when we embarked on a safer culture such as cheaper insurance premiums, workers missing less time, other workers not having to fill in for injured co-workers.

But there were additional rewards I hadn’t foreseen: Employees seem to appreciate working for a company that has their well-being at heart. And a focus on safety resonates with clients and prospective customers as well.

Marlin Steel Safety 1520 daysMarlin Steel Safety 1600 daysMarlin Steel Safety 1700 Consecutive Days

When you’re buying something from a company, especially if you’re contemplating a long-term relationship with a supplier, you want to know you can trust the folks you’re dealing with, that they’re a stand-up group. A great safety record is a sign that the organization, particularly in a manufacturing arena like ours, is focused, vigilant and professional in its approach. The finer points of producing custom-engineered steel and wire containers for material handling -- what we do -- aren’t always so easy to translate to those who are outside our day-to-day business; a magazine writer, for instance, recently described our business as an “esoteric … quirky corner of the economy” -- and he meant that as a compliment! But everyone - whether it’s a prospective customer, new employee or community member -- grasps the value of a going many days without an accident.

Our initial push for greater safety was, well, to just keep our folks healthier and safer. But a funny thing happened on the way to 1,700-plus consecutive days without an accident: It’s become a defining value for us as well.