In 1987 Paul O’Neill was appointed CEO of Alcoa.

The company was struggling with failed production lines, mounting staffing costs and a declining stock price. By all accounts, it was on life support.

When Paul was appointed there was a stockholders meeting called to allow him time to speak to how he was going to turn things around.

Paul took to the stage and, instead of talking about profits or inventory or stock prices, he spoke about safety.

It was his goal to make Alcoa the safest company in America. At the time, most Alcoa plants were reporting an average of one work-related injury a week which, for their number of staff, was about the US average. Certainly not an area that most would think to look to turn things around. So, why did he focus on safety?

He did it to foster a culture.

An environment where people felt comfortable speaking up about safety issues, rather than feeling discriminated against for doing it.

Where workers felt supported and taken care of. Like the boss actually cared more about their health and safety than he did about profits.

A place they would feel happy to come to and give their all, rather than dreading or, even worse, fearing it.

Did this cost a bit more in the short term? Yes. More money was put into refining practices, and jobs were stopped when they were unsafe and often had to be redesigned.

This takes time and it takes effort and it takes money.

But because they had the commitment and encouragement from the top, this time and money and effort was available. It was seen as an investment in creating a culture, rather than an expense.

What was the result of this?

By the time Paul O’Neill left Alcoa, the company’s net income had quintupled, and so had their stock price.

They were also the safest company in America at the time, with an injury rate one twentieth of the national average, which is astounding considering that the work they did mostly involved working with molten metal.

This was not because of the reduction in workers compensation or absenteeism or turnover, or due to any one factor.

It was a combination of all of it and more.

It was the culture of health and safety that had been created by a boss who knew how important it was to do so.

This is what any health program should strive to do, and the way we achieve this is with commitment from the top down.

Create an environment where people feel cared for and they’ll care for you right back.

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