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Health and Safety Practices and the Organizational Performance

Health and Safety Practices and the Organizational Performance

In a manufacturing organization, employees are exposed to hazards ranging from the use of chemicals, complex plant and equipment, working tools, heat and temperature, odour, noise, waste materials produced during operation, unguarded machinery, inadequate working space, and inadequate fire precautions etc. Also, employees are to work sometimes under stress and pressure. Hence, health and safety practices are needed in the organization for smooth working. Health and safety practices needed for the employees, production processes, plant and equipment, work places and other common areas such as plant roads etc. These practices rely on the cooperation of both the management and the employees to ensure a ‘self-generating effort’ between ‘those who create the risks and those who work with them’.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that people normally discuss failures of large-scale technological systems solely in terms of the technological aspects. Individuals, their organizations, groups, and cultures are also important factors in the design, construction, operation, and monitoring of technological systems. Until recently, these aspects are covered under the term ‘human error’. While human error does contribute to accidents, the behavioural causes of failure are often found to be far more subtle when incidents are analyzed as part of a technological system.

Many expectations are built into the current health and safety legislation which specifies the responsibilities of managers and employees with regard to safe working practices. These suppositions are more likely to be fulfilled if a positive cultural attitude toward safety exists in the organization. As the employees become more educated, they are more likely to expect safer working conditions. A more safety and environmentally conscious workforce is increasingly willing to express its disapproval if the organization perceived to behave carelessly on the safety aspects.

The concept of safety culture was developed as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which focused attention on the human and organizational elements contributing to the unsafe operation of technological systems. Safety culture is an organization’s norms, beliefs, roles, attitudes, and practices concerned with minimizing exposure of employees to the workplace hazards. The goal of a safety culture is to develop health and safety practices in the organization due to which the employees are aware of the risks in their workplace and are continually on the lookout for the hazards. A safety culture motivates and recognizes safe behaviour by focusing on the attitudes and behaviours of the employees. It is a process and not a programme. It takes time to develop and requires a collective effort to implement its many features.

Health and safety practices in the organization are meant for preventing of accidents and incidences at the workplaces and protecting the employees from injury and occupational diseases due to the hazards and risks present at the workplaces. Presence of hazards at the workplace can harm, injure, and cause unsafe environment to the employees or damage the plant and equipment or the facilities available at the workplace.

Inadequate health and safety practices constitute the main causes for the workplace accidents. However, accidents do not take place due to a single cause but from a combination of factors which act together. Potentially unsafe situations do not cause accidents until employees are exposed to them. Accidents can be caused by the result of unsafe acts or practices. These practices can be due to the human elements which result from poor attitudes, physical conditions and lack of knowledge or skills to enable one to work safely. These are also caused by the result of unsafe conditions of equipment or materials. All the accidents bring pain and suffering to the employees and their families. When the accidents result into permanent disability, the consequences are disastrous for both the victim employees and the organization. The employees lose their earning capacity and ability to enjoy a normal active life, and the organization loses trained experienced employees.

There is a negative impact on the organizational performance when the health and safety practices in the organization are lacking. The performance of the organization suffers because of (i) interruption of production immediately after the accident, (ii) lowering of morale of the employees, (iii) employees time is needed and spent for investigating and preparing reports on the accident, (iv) recruiting and training costs for replacement employees, (v) damage to equipment and materials resulting into production loss, (vi) reduction in product quality following the accident, and (vii) reduced productivity of injured employees since they are to be on light duty. With these negative consequences, the organization loses its ability to accomplish set goals and its competitive advantage position in the marketplace gets diminished.

Employees’ performance normally supports the performance of the organization. However, employee performance itself can be affected by several factors. Employees can have optimal performance if they feel safe, have good working environment and have discipline.

It can be seen that there is a direct relationship between the organizational health and safety practices and the organizational performance. Strong health and safety practices are the one where espoused values are consistent with the employees’ behaviour and where employees share the same view as those of the organization. Conversely, a weak level of health and safety practices result when the employees at all the levels of the organizational hierarchy fail to share the safety values espoused by the organizational management. While there are many potential external influences which make it difficult to define strong health and safety practices in the organization, there are many features in which these practices from the successful organizations have in common. In order to cultivate strong health and safety practices in the organization, there is a requirement of several measures which are needed to be taken.

No doubt, health and safety practices in their work area need employees’ prime intention, but at the same time the employees cannot ignore health and safety practices in the related areas such as fire safety, gas safety, and road safety etc.  It is because the violations of the health and safety practices in the related areas also affect the work environment. Further, the state of technologies employed in the work area and the health of the plant and equipment not only impact the health and safety practices but also affects the organizational performance.

Health and safety practices are closely linked to the employees’ productivity at the workplace and hence have a major contribution towards the performance of the organization. It is often said that the safe workplaces are profitable workplaces, whether measured in terms of the organizational bottom line, its market share, its broader consumer reputation, or its ability to attract and retain employees. Accordingly, safe workplaces are considered to be productive work places. Also a healthy and safe work environment helps to reduce costs and to improve the organizational effectiveness.

There are a large number of health and safety practices which are needed to be implemented. Some of the major safety practices include (i) use of personal protective equipments, (ii) presence of safety check lists for each area of operation, (iii) identification of hazardous areas and development of safe working practices for such areas, (iv) effective handling of work place stress and fatigue, (v) involvement of employees in all the safety related activities in the organization, (vi) formation of safety committees at the plant level and at the department levels, (vii) regular safety inspections and audits of the plant and equipment, production processes, operating practices, workplace discipline, and workplace housekeeping etc., (viii) devising of solutions to incidents which result from human error, (ix) conducting of investigations of all incidences and accidents, (x) preparedness for handling and management of emergencies and disasters,(xi) having regular safety reviews, (xii) having regular employees’ safety  training in the SUSA ( safe and unsafe safety acts) techniques, (xiii) maintenance of the honest, accurate, and proper records of the safety related issues (xiv) presence of an effective safety management system,  (xv) safety promotional activities, (xvi) presence of an effective communication system in the organization so that safety related communication can take place effectively, and (xvii) several more of health and safety practices.

Implementation of health and safety practices in the organization ensures that the employees stay safe and healthy in the workplace and this increases their capacity to perform.  In the present day environment, a safe and healthy workplace has become an integral part to the performance both for the employees as well as the organization. The quality of the workplace environment has an impact on the level of employees’ motivation and their performance. A safe workplace ensures better and sincere engagement of the employees with the work. The immediate work environment influences to a great extent the employees’ error rate, level of innovation and collaboration with other employees as well as absenteeism and ultimately affects their performance.

Organizations with a proactive approach to health and safety practices have a peaceful working environment and such organizations normally report steep reduction in the (i) reportable accident, (ii) loss of man days, and (iii) injuries and sickness absence of the employees. The employees of such organizations work in a stress free work environment and hence have better work discipline and better compliance to safety rules. The employees’ attitudes and perceptions for their jobs in these organizations are very positive. The employees are at home with their physical work environment and they are more committed, more engaged, and more satisfied with their jobs. Employees with supportive perception reciprocate this with efficiency and productivity at the work place. In other words, such employees internalize organizational values and norms with greater affective commitment, participation, and loyalty. All these ultimately gets reflected in the productivity of the employees and hence in the performance of the organization.

Health and safety practices are required to be managed and controlled to achieve high level of the safety performance.  In this regards, top management of the organization provides leadership, authority and co-ordination of the resources. The leadership along with proper planning and organization, communication, and training, can improve the employees’ productivity at the workplace. Further, an organization can have proactive approach to the health and safety practices only if the organizational top management is not only committed to these practices but also show their visible presence in the safety related activities. Also, executives, non-executives, contract workers and agencies working in the plant, employees’ associations, and trade unions etc., need to be committed to the health and safety practices.

It is now well recognized that safer and healthier workplaces translate into increased productivity, more job satisfaction and stronger bottom-line results. There are four factors which explain the link between productivity and employees’ overall safety. These are (i) the need for more innovative ways to reduce the high rates of work place injuries, (ii) the pressure to reduce the social and economic costs of injury, particularly compensation costs, (iii) the need to improve employees’ productivity without employees needing to work longer hours and/or taking on more work, and (iv) the need to offer good working conditions as an enticement to recruit and retain skilled employees.

There are genuine productivity gains when the organization invests in high performance health and safety practices. Such organization always shows a much better performance when compared with the organizations which simply take interest in the health and safety practices to the extent of attaining minimum legal compliance towards implementation of the health and safety in the organization. The organization which is committed to the best practices of health and safety and implements them in a properly managed manner, the result is a win-win situation since it benefits both the employees and the management as well the organization.

Weak implementation of the safety practices creates safety hazards. These hazards can be categorized in six categories namely (i) physical, (ii) chemical, (iii) mechanical, (iv) biological, (v) ergonomical, and (vi) psychological. All these hazards negatively impact the employees and cause their productivity to go down. Once the employees’ productivity is reduced, the performance of the organization gets affected automatically. As an example, psychological hazards include monotony which causes mental stress and decreases productivity.

Health and safety practices in the organization prevent accidents and ensure regular flow of work which helps in improving the morale and the productivity of the employees. It also contributes to a team work and a sense of belongingness of the employees. Also, when the employees’ performance increases, it leads to the organization effectiveness.

There is a direct and indirect influence in the job performance of the employees working in unsafe shop environment having high workloads and such workplace conditions as excessive hot/cold, chemical smell, noise, bad lighting, vibration, and dust etc. Such conditions decrease the concentration of the employees towards work, lead to their lower performance such as low productivity, poor quality, and physical and emotional stress, which in turn results in high costs to the organization. Employees working in a healthy work environment believe that their demands related with job are not excessive and that they do not have to sacrifice their family lives or other meaningful non work roles in order to perform well on their jobs. These employees have positive psychological feelings with their jobs and perceive positive transmission and crossover of energy, emotion, and skills between work and their family. Such employees perform well on the job which gets reflected in the performance of the organization.

Some of the organizational managements raise the issue of the economic costs with respect to the implementation of the health and safety practices. The economic cost of the health and safety to the organization is sometimes being considered as double-edged. On the one hand, health and safety practices and measures protect the employees from the hazards of the workplace and on the other hand it has a cost element which conflicts with the management’s objective of containing the production costs. However, effective safety practices, improve the performance of the employees and the organization, by reducing costs associated with accidents, disabilities, absenteeism, or illness. There are also indirect costs associated with work-related accidents. Also, there is the negative effect on morale of the employees due to accidents which often leads to possible reduction in the quality of work.

There exist a cyclic relationship between safety practices and the organizational performance (Fig 1). The healthy and safe employees are more productive, leading to increased investment in the safety practices to reduce accidents, which in turn lead to further productivity gains. The genuine productivity gains can be realized by those organizations which invest in high performance health and safety practices. Hence, the organizational management is to recognize that there is a need to have a positive attitude towards health and safety practices and the organization is required to move on towards implementing the best health and safety practices instead of simply attaining minimum legal compliance.

Fig 1 Cyclic relationship between safety practices and the organizational performance

Organizational performance is influenced by many factors. Besides health and safety practices, some of the other factors include committed employees, decision making, employees’ knowledge and training, systematic working, employees’ motivational activities, delegation of power, a performance measurement system, and so on. While working, it is important for the employees to feel healthy and safe and comfortable with their working environment. The feeling of safety and comfort in a work place can be achieved with implementation of the health and safe practices in the organization. Though the health and safe practices have a very big impact on the organizational performance, it is presently largely measured by the negative outcomes such as workplace injury and illness etc. However, these methods of measuring have a shortfall; for instance, a low incidence of injury does not necessarily mean that adequate safety systems and controls are in place.

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