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The Journey to Building a High Participation Safety Culture: Part 1 – CEO Commitment

Reducing workplace injuries is intentional. But best intentions aren’t enough.

The safest companies in the world are the ones with a High Participation Safety Culture. In fact, 98% of health and safety professionals surveyed believe improving participation will improve safety. But how do these companies build that culture?

We’re in a unique position to study and survey high levels of safety in companies from nearly every industry. And through extensive research, we’ve identified 5 intentional steps any company needs to take to build a High Participation Safety Culture.

Part 1 – CEO Commitment

Every single High Participation Safety Culture we studied had a committed CEO; without exception.

It’s not enough for the CEO to just say all the right things and allocate enough budget. Every single employee must believe that safety is legitimately important to the CEO, or all efforts to change the culture will fall flat.

Where does that commitment come from?

The Catalyst for Change

CEOs don’t simply wake up one morning and suddenly decide to embrace safety. The decision comes from an emotional or economic catalyst.


They may have an emotional response to a serious workplace incident. Maybe it happened on one of their job sites. Or maybe it happened to a close peer, a friend or a loved one.

They feel the tragedy of the incident personally. The CEO looks at their own safety culture and thinks, “We can do better. We will do better, starting today.”

These potential catalysts happen nearly every day. A CEO may hear of a tragedy in another industry, but the news comes and goes with no action at all. But this time, the event has struck an emotional cord and the CEO feels a new sense of urgency to control the risk to their employees.

This is especially true in smaller companies where the CEO says good morning to the people they need to protect every day.


The catalyst for change may come when the CEO recognizes that a poor safety record will hurt their bottom line, or a stronger safety record will help them generate more income.

Take COR certification, for example. When COR first came out in Ontario, many construction executives ignored the new regulation or passed off compliance to an administrative assistant. It was probably an annoyance to them, or something that would cost too much money to take seriously.

But CEOs quickly saw that, without the designation, they would be eliminated from tender. Suddenly, they were automatically out of contention for new contracts.

Safety became a competitive advantage, and a bad safety culture became very expensive. This was the economic catalyst many companies needed to change their culture.

Personifying the Change

Once a CEO identifies the need for the change, they need to be its greatest champion. Every single person in the organization must know the top level is 100% all-in on safety. Take Paul O’Neill, CEO of Alcoa, for example.

When he assumed the reins as the new CEO, Wall Street was excited to hear him speak at his first investor meeting and reveal how he planned to boost the iconic American company’s stock price.

Yet, instead of talking about money, he talked about safety. He said he wanted a company where no employees would ever be hurt. That was all he wanted to say. Of course, in the 1990s, nobody knew this change would eventually take the +100-year-old company to even greater heights. In fact, some people thought he lost his mind. O’Neil sacrificed his own reputation in the short term to make an authentic statement about worker safety.

As if that wasn’t enough to inspire, O’Neil took it to the next level by calling an all-company meeting. He gave out his home phone number and told front-line employees to call him if their supervisors didn’t respond to their safety concerns.

The average CEO doesn’t need grandiose actions like that to sell safety to their employees or stakeholders. However, everyone in the organization must know safety is now their #1 priority. And they must also know it’s not choosing safety over profitability. Instead, it’s choosing safety that leads to profitability.

That’s the first phase. If you would like to read the entire journey, download our whitepaper, Building a High Participation Safety Culture.

Rethinking Safety

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