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The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) recently announced publication of research it funded in the Journal of Applied Psychology, entitled “Safety in the C-Suite: How CEOs Influence Organizational Safety Climate and Employee Injuries.” The study’s authors are Dr. Sean Tucker (University of Regina), Dr. Babatunde Ogunfowora (University of Calgary) and Dayle Ehr (University of Regina).

Based on data collected from 2,714 employees, 1,398 supervisors and 229 in top management teams in 54 small-, medium- and large-sized private and public sector organizations, the research findings support a model that shows how CEOs can play a more effective role in developing an organizational safety climate in their organizations that actually reduces injuries.

The stakes are high. Direct and indirect costs for work- place injuries and fatalities costs the Canadian economy approximately $19 billion annually. In addition to the human toll, the economic loss can be staggering to a company, and those losses impact workers and bottom lines globally.

The research tests the commonly held “leader-centric” viewpoint, where the leader at the top is assumed to directly influence frontline employee injuries. Tucker and colleagues found that CEOs in their study actually indirectly influenced workers’ experience of injuries by promoting an overarching safety climate in their organization, achieved through the collective learning experiences and efforts of the CEOs’ top management team, managers and supervisors.

“Our research is the first to gather hard data to test if and how CEOs influence injuries among frontline workers,” said Tucker. “We found that CEOs have the most direct safety-related influence on their top managers. These top managers then role model pro-safety values and behaviours to lower-level managers and supervisors, and this in turn cascades down to the frontlines. We call this process collective social learning, and our data shows that this process works to create an overall safety climate that reduces injuries on the frontlines.”

The essential ingredient to reduce workplace injuries is a strong safety climate that permeates the organization. The research demonstrates that this is achieved when CEOs, senior managers, managers, supervisors and frontline staff are aligned in their commitment to safety. Beginning with the CEO, and with the active participation of groups spanning the hierarchy, organizations can reduce workplace injuries.

“Aside from the human toll, workplace injuries and deaths take a tremendous toll on a business’ bottom line, and this research makes an important contribution to our understanding of how we can improve worker safety and reduce businesses’ costs,” said Phil Germain, vice president of prevention and employer services at the WCB that sponsored the study. “The researchers collected and analyzed a large amount of hard data to show that reducing worker injuries, which can save businesses literally millions of dollars, comes through a CEO-driven, top-down cascade of directives that promote a pervasive climate of safety at all levels of the organization.”

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