The Best Vs. The Worst by Mackenzie Wilson

#6 Excellent Safety = Excellent Business. Yes, but is it Cause or (just) Correlation?

by Mackenzie Wilson / Based on the following SafeConnection panels

It is now a given that safety excellence correlates with business excellence, but is it possible to go further and establish a causal link? SafeStart author Larry Wilson invited SafeConnection Expert Panels to consider this topic.

First however, to establish the current thinking, he canvassed speakers for their take on whether excellent safety and excellent business, whether correlated or causal in their relationship, should be treated as linked at all.

Who better to ask than companies that have achieved both safety excellence and top business performance?

As usual, candid insights were forthcoming on how safety excellence relates to business performance:

Data Point from Teg Matthews (Vice President, SafeStart), who conducts focus groups with leaders of Fortune 500 companies: he estimates that roughly 90% of the leaders he talks to see the correlation.

The panels then considered could we build on that correlation to find causation:

Larry developed the discussion to explore whether leadership had made the connection between human error and injury causation on the one hand and human error causing quality problems or production problems on the other: do they see the direct link?

In a nutshell, do senior leadership understand that reduction of human error is the reason excellent safety equals excellent business?

Case Study: Etex. Alex Carnevale (President, Dynacast International) explained that when he was working at Etex as the Chief Performance Officer he and his colleagues believed that “the same things that cause good safety results cause great traditional business results”. This was not a hypothesis but an explicit principle: “engagement, attention to detail, and turning things from ideas to action. These things are pretty apparent in terms of driving good safety results”, he says, “but those are also the same things you need to do to get good quality, efficient productivity and to get advancements in your factories”. This thinking enabled leaders to powerfully convey the message that they cared about these things, with the added benefit of helping to eliminate any tension between safety practices and the rest of the business.

Are ‘performance errors’, such as delivering an inappropriate consignment, being caused by the same things that cause or contribute to the ‘injury errors’? Can we assign them to rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency? Or a combination of these states?

Key insight from SafeStart’s Larry Wilson: There is a bit more maturity around ‘justice’ in a safety-related instance than there is for a production or quality error. “If someone sends three truckloads of product to the second-best customer instead of the best customer, probably nothing happens other than he or she gets told if they do it again, they will be fired”, he says. “But, if a worker backed a forklift off the loading dock and got seriously injured, there would be all kinds of root-cause analysis”. While we all know that nobody is ever trying to get hurt, nobody is ever trying to make a production, quality, or customer service error either!”

Nonetheless, the understanding of the link between safety practices and excellent business remains unclear unless the human aspect of error is grasped:

Scrutinise the inputs: Alex Carnevale emphasises the need to look at the drivers of good business performance rather than just the outcomes. 

Yes, the goal is good business performance but belief in the shared causality of excellent business and safety excellence leads you to understand the drivers in play. Identify what they are and you will know which levers produce good or better results.

Why settle for correlation when you could be leveraging the cause? Why aim for Good when you could be getting Great?

Take Aways

  • Take the correlation of business performance and safety excellence as a given.
  • Go further: a causation link should be embraced at all levels.
  • The key driver for both is the Human Factor.
  • Understanding your people makes everything easier!
¹ Based on SafeConnection panels on North America, Europe, The Middle East, India and Asia.
² All opinions expressed in here are purely those of the panelists. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of SafeStart and the panelists’ companies.
³ For more information about the SafeConnection Expert Panels and to watch past or current sessions, please visit

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