September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - September 2004

Are you speaking the language of company leaders? To thrive in today's competitive world, SH&E practitioners must learn about the business side of safety.

2004-2005 ASSE President Gene Barfield, CSP

Safety in Business Terms

Are you speaking the language of company leaders? For a recent meeting with my corporate leadership team, I prepared an impressive PowerPoint presentation. It detailed key points of my program, and included extensive support documentation that I felt would guarantee approval of the requested program upgrades. Much to my surprise, the upgrades were not approved. I was amazed, confused and a bit aggravated. Why did they reject the proposals? What didn't they understand? When will they realize that an effective safety management system actually saves money? Later I learned why the proposals were rejected: I had not spoken their language—the language of business and finance.

Today's SH&E professionals must explain safety on three fronts: 1) regulatory (compliance); 2) humanitarian (ethics and morals); and 3) financial—the impact not only on operations, but also on the company's overall financial picture and corporate image. The first two we've been doing effectively for many years. But, to thrive in today's competitive world, SH&E practitioners must learn about the business side of safety. We must effectively equate our efforts to profit-loss statements. We must learn to use statements like, “The safety management system will produce a 42-percent return on invested capital.” We must show—in dollars—both the obvious and the hidden costs of a safety management system failure. We must show management the cost of damaged equipment and lost production, in addition to the cost of injuries. We must clearly show senior management how injuries detract from a positive corporate image and how one major incident can destroy years of investment in positive advertisements.

ASSE is an excellent resource for learning how to educate management and show that supporting efforts to protect people, property and the environment is a sound investment. The Society offers abundant professional development opportunities and related information to help SH&E professionals increase their knowledge in this area. Each year, the PDC features many sessions focused on communicating with management about safety. Safety 2004 featured ASSE's first-ever Executive Summit, a panel of four renowned corporate leaders who shared their perspectives on the role of SH&E in the modern business world. Each spring, the Society sponsors a safety management symposium. In addition, Professional Safety regularly publishes articles on this topic. Our website also features information compiled by ASSE's Business of Safety Committee, including links to more than 20 articles and other web-based resources. Through these tools, you can enhance your knowledge of the positive financial benefits delivered by a safety management system—and learn how to convincingly convey that information to your corporate leaders.

As you strive to bolster your business knowledge, be resourceful. For example, read the trade journals that your senior management team reads. Ask to be placed on the distribution list for these publications, as this not only demonstrates your interest in learning about the business, it also allows you to see what pages the team leaders have marked as important. This will give you insight into key issues facing the corporation. You might also visit the library or search the Internet using terms such as “return on investment” or “profit-loss statements” as a starting point. Also consider asking your chief financial officer how the safety department can help improve the company's financial standing. Actions such as these demonstrate your interest and show that you are intent on proving the value delivered by SH&E.

Next month, we'll discuss how to deal effectively with an outsourced staff.

Gene Barfield, CSP