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Survey shows workplace safety sidelined by business pressures

May 02, 2011

The results of the DuPont European workplace safety perception survey

Every year, more than five thousand people in the European Union die as a result of work-related accidents. Though the rate in workplace fatalities is decreasing – from 3.6 deaths per 1,000 employees in 1996 to 2.1 in 2007  - and many companies claim to put safety first, the workplace safety as whole appears to be stagnating.  Why this disconnect?

emea_workplace_safety_at_plant_sitesTo find out what lies at the root of this issue, DuPont Sustainable Solutions, a DuPont consultancy that helps organizations to become safer, more efficient and more environmentally sustainable, commissioned a survey of 300 leading companies across Europe to investigate attitudes to and strategies for dealing with work safety. Participating companies had at least 2,500 employees in the industrial manufacturing, oil & gas, construction, automotive, energy and utilities, food, transport, steel or logistics sectors and were operating in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal or Spain .

The results of the survey, which can be found at here,  suggest that there is a conceptual “breakdown” due to a lack of overall leadership commitment.  While it is clear that the importance of safety is well understood, there are gaps in implementation which translates into an aversion to accountability for safety, an absence of clear frameworks for implementing safety in workplaces and even more importantly insufficient measurement of safety performance both in quality and quantity.

Lack of safety performance measurement and targets
Although many organisations list safety as a top priority, it is rarely a top concern due to less than inspiring drivers – 65 per cent of respondents cited compliance with legistlation or corporate image as key motivators.  Only 15 per cent of participants named increased productivity, reduced cost or improved quality as the impetus for safety, showing that few believe the benefits of  improved safety translate into better business performance. 

Beyond this, one-third of the companies surveyed do not even measure safety performance and not one participant could provide a statistic about their company’s safety performance. Furthermore, almost one in five companies do not set specific safety targets at all. Of these the highest number are in Italy, France and Germany. Shockingly, 51 per cent of HSE professionals believe that their company does not set adequate safety performance targets. This begs the question: how much monitoring is actually taking place?

Are all injuries preventable?
When asked this question, opinion was divided. Companies in the Northeast of Europe are more likely to believe injuries are not preventable, as automated industries such as manufacturing predominate. In Southern Europe, where more labour-intensive industry sectors are prevalent and behavioural safety plays a larger role, injuries are more often thought to be preventable. In Spain this belief is so strong that 96 per cent of respondents said they believed injuries could be avoided.

Responsible yes, accountable no
If workers in some sectors feel that a certain number of incidents is acceptable, and senior leaders do not communicate otherwise, all parties are less likely to act on safety. The study shows that such attitudes resonate throughout the company, manifesting in a lack of clarity about accountability affecting people’s perception of their empowerment when it comes to observing unsafe acts. One in three workers from France does not feel empowered to stop operations to prevent an injury, and participants from Portugal and Italy were also reluctant. In Spain, 70% of companies interviewed considered safety to be a group effort compared to Italy where only 30% believe this to be the case and only 25% in Germany. Arguably, one of the most effective means of improving safety performance is to incentivize safety. However, less than half the companies surveyed incentivize safety, and interestingly, those that do are more likely to be in Southern Europe. 

Senior commitment to safety and leadership
Additionally, the data suggests that despite strong verbal commitment, business leaders frequently do not translate this into actions.  German and French participants were most critical of their senior management, with approximately one third saying their business leaders did not do enough to demonstrate their commitment to improving safety. Further, only 20% of respondents believe that senior leaders in their company consider safety when making business decisions. 

Conclusion
This sidelining of safety, especially if a business disruption occurs, sits uneasily with the belief of 95% of survey participants that improved safety leads to better business performance. Fundamentally, it is apparent that safety is a large concern among companies throughout Europe. However, this survey lays bare the fact that weaknesses within the system have the potential to reduce its effectiveness, decreasing overall efficacy and manifesting in a consistently higher frequency of incidents or accidents.

When viewed as a whole, it is clear that most companies are not applying themselves fully.  The basic elements for effective safety management may be in place, but without proper impetus, safety performance stagnates. This survey showed that a lack of a coordinated, uncompromising approach to safety, means injuries and fatalities are likely to continue to plague companies across Europe, eroding their right to operate and ability to attain their bottom line.

1 Source: Eurostat. Statistics are only available up to 2007.
2 Sample: 299

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Note to the editor
DuPont Sustainable Solutions is one of 13 DuPont businesses. Bringing customers the benefits of an integrated global services and technology delivery enterprise, it applies DuPont’s real-world experience, history of innovation, problem-solving success, and strong brands to help organizations transform their workplaces and work cultures to create safer, more efficient and more environmentally sustainable workplaces. Additional information is available at www.sustainablesolutions.dupont.com

DuPont (www.dupont.com) is a science-based products and services company.  Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere.  Operating in more than 90 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.

For further information, please contact:
John Michael Kern
Marketing Communication Specialist
DuPont Sustainable Solutions, EMEA
Tel: +41 22 717 5293
Email: John.M.Kern@che.dupont.com 

For further press information, please contact:
Philippa Watts
PR consultant to DuPont Sustainable Solutions
Tel: +44 7771 857 856
Email: wattsph@googlemail.com