Safety Leader

United for a Cause: The importance of collaboration in safety

Getty Images / Feodora Chiosea / MuchMania
Getty Images / Feodora Chiosea / MuchMania
Published On
May 14, 2021

As the face of safety at your company, a key to your success is getting everyone on the same page. By everyone, I mean the workers and management in this quest for achieving a positive safety culture.

Sometimes, top management and front-line workers get bogged down in the minute details of a contract without looking at the bigger picture. Emphasizing safety provides an opportunity to demonstrate that positive outcomes benefit all parties. Safe work practices lead to better productivity, lower rates of accidents and other incidents, and an atmosphere of working together as a team to achieve a common goal.

Years ago, I heard the late IBEW president Ed Hill give a speech during the roll-out of the Code of Excellence. He told the audience that they needed to remember that a successful company is not just good for the shareholders and executives, it is also good for the workers. It was part of their job to contribute to that success.

Why? Because success enables the company to be more profitable, and therefore able to do more for its workers in terms of benefits and wages. Organizations are also more apt, once they see the employee commitment, to trust in employees’ expertise in project planning and problem-solving. 

The message’s reception was mixed. Coming from the management side, I could see why the workers did not buy in to that mindset. Years of the “us versus them” work environment and trust was not in either side’s vocabulary. Fortunately, change was coming. We can accomplish more working as one cohesive group with common goals, rather than as two groups working against each other.

The OSHA Strategic Partnership on Electrical Transmission & Distribution Construction is one of the most successful labor-management safety partnerships. In 2004, original signatory members OSHA, NECA, IBEW, large transmission and distribution contractors and other trade associations came together with the goal of reducing the number of fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the industry.

At that time, the number of fatalities and accidents was rising and all parties agreed that the only way to get these under control was for labor, management and the regulator of safety to work together. Over the course of the initial five-year agreement, with all parties’ hard work, the partnership developed OSHA-approved training programs and industry best practices, and achieved a 40% reduction in fatalities and 60% reduction in accident rates. 

How did they achieve this? By everyone working together toward a common goal, putting differences aside and improving safety for every worker. 

This achievement was even more remarkable because all the participants were essentially competitors who were working together to improve business, rather than against each other to get business. They agreed—at every level—to put their differences aside to achieve this common goal. The partnership continues and is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the shining stars for OSHA in showing how collaboration can help accomplish safety excellence.

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or cklk3@yahoo.com.

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