Feb 2016

Providence Companies Can’t Focus on Both Work Injury Prevention & Profitability

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyBig organizations frequently make safety mistakes, sometimes making the same errors multiple times. This is true even when the outcomes are disastrous, such as an employee being killed or injured and a workers’ compensation claim being made for disability or death benefits. Recently, Safety News Alert published information on research providing new insight as to why safety errors repeatedly occur, even when companies should know better.

A Focus on Both Safety & Profitability Isn’t Possible

The study into why safety errors keep happening was conducted by the McCombs School of Business, which is the business school of the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers found companies make repeated mistakes because they go through cycles called “organizational oscillation.”

This research contradicted earlier data, which suggests companies either learn from their mistakes or fail to learn from their mistakes. If companies go through periods of organizational oscillation, they neither learn nor fail to learn from past problems. Instead, they go through cycles or learning and then of forgetting.

In the immediate aftermath of a serious mistake or a disaster, the company ends up being pushed forwards a focus on safety. Media, lobbyists groups, and government regulation can also cause companies to become more safety-focused, even if an accident does not occur.  However, a major catalyst like an employee getting badly hurt is usually a driving force leading companies to be dedicated to improving safety.

As money and energy are directed towards making a workplace safe, both innovation and efficiency suffer. Over time, however, complacency grows as the company’s safety measures work. Further, new employees are brought on who don’t know about the tragedy in the past, and the tragedy or major error even begins to fade in the minds of people who were there and saw it firsthand.

The company begins to lose its intense focus on safety as memories of the disaster fade and instead the company once again begins to direct its energy towards innovation or other priorities. Eventually safety errors lead to another serious injury or another major mistake and the cycle starts all over again.

Researchers believe organizational oscillation is a natural and unavoidable occurrence because companies cannot split their focus between safety and non-safety effectively. While companies should theoretically be able to focus on two different goals at once, this virtually never happens in real life and is considered an “unrealistic scenario.”

Companies are urged to recognize the organizational oscillation pattern and to take affirmative steps to ensure a safety focus does not fall by the wayside in response to other priorities. Companies should also treat safety not as something special they do in response to a tragedy, but as a routine part of work. For example, instead of calling “safety goggles” safety goggles, they should just be called goggles and should be assumed to be an essential and normal tool which is just part of doing the job right. If safety is normalized and a regular part of work, not just a focus after a disaster, companies overall will be safer all the time.

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