Zero Accident Culture

Achieving Zero: Optimizing and Leveraging Talent

Are you using your ‘A’ team effectively?

John Wayhart

When you think about that coveted corner office and what the day of a CEO or senior leader is like, I bet the following words come to mind: sales, production, revenue, board meetings, important client relationships, long-term planning, etc. Workplace safety probably doesn’t make the list, but it should. As the individual responsible for safety at your organization, you may not be using all of the plays in your playbook to produce the kind of winning results a Zero Accident Culture (ZAC) workplace achieves. Your MVP is right down the hall, in that corner office.

The Missing Link

Have you ever sat down and discussed your company’s safety goals with your CEO? Do your senior leaders spend any time studying the results of workplace safety? How do they actively participate in your company’s safety efforts? Would safety records improve if your CEO placed greater emphasis on it?

Oftentimes in business, safety and accident prevention become delegated responsibilities. In some cases, these topics aren’t even talked about outside of the person who is responsible for managing them. Getting leadership involved in safety efforts may feel uncomfortable because you don’t want to “bother” them with something you see as your responsibility. Well, you’re not doing your job if you don’t use their influence to your advantage. Involvement of your senior leaders is the missing link to taking your safety program to the next level and improving the frequency and severity of workplace accidents.

Follow the Leader

Let’s face it; the best Safety Director in every company is the CEO. Why? Because true leadership creates followership. Let me explain the impact leadership can have on safety efforts through one of my favorite examples. Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa and Secretary Treasurer, revolutionized the role and responsibility of a CEO in regards to safety. His first days in office were spent in the operations visiting every Alcoa plant in the U.S. and throughout Europe. What he focused on were the people of Alcoa.

He would talk to everyone, participate on safety committees, offer advice and counsel upon request. O’Neill understood that the more he understood workplace safety, the better he was able to make an impact on the organization. He asked for daily safety reports from around the world; he tracked lost workdays due to injuries; required managers to take part in weekly companywide conference calls describing what they’ve learned and how they were to eliminate work injury at their plant.

O’Neill has stated, “The role of leadership is to select the right goal and then drive the organization toward it by every means available. Finding the right goal is very hard. It should involve the complete elimination—and I mean down to zero—of an important problem. Anything less … is just negotiating failure at the margins.” I wholeheartedly agree. And I hope you do as well.

When employees see that their leader cares about safety, and therefore their wellbeing, they become engaged. Suddenly, safety becomes much more important to everyone and the result of this is a game changer.

Get in the Game

While it would be fantastic if every CEO or senior leader understood the impact they could have on workplace safety, sometimes it’s not top of mind like it was for O’Neil. It’s the Safety Director’s role to coach the senior leaders to get in the game and get involved. I guarantee your senior leaders would be up to the challenge if it was brought to their attention. Most leaders enjoy getting involved when they are called upon to solve a problem or help their business improve. Figure 1, page xx outlines a number of opportunities to present to your senior leadership team members to get them involved.

Predict. Prevent. Prosper.

It would be worth your while to schedule a couple meetings and take just a few minutes to explain the impact your organization’s leaders could have on reducing the frequency and severity of workplace accidents. As a result of senior leadership involvement, your organization will discover the following benefits:

  • Improved employee engagement and morale leading to better customer service

  • Safer production, greater efficiency and improved ROI

  • Enhanced employee wellness (safety + fitness = employee wellness)

  • Better relationships, improved two-way communication and accessibility

  • Lower workers’ compensation costs, more competitive insurance rates and options

You have the resources at your fingertips to make a difference in your work environment and impact employees both professionally and personally. Stay tuned for next month’s article which will go into more detail on creating and setting goals to reduce workplace accidents.

John Wayhart is a Senior Vice President at Assurance Agency, Ltd. (Schaumburg, IL). With more than 29 years in the insurance and risk management industry, his expertise lies in providing solutions for a wide range of businesses including the waste and recycling industry. In 1989, John trademarked the Zero Accident Culture® and continues to teach, coach and mentor this process to help drive down the cost of risk to improve operational effectiveness and financial results. For more information on creating a Zero Accident Culture for your organization, contact John at (847) 463-7161 or e-mail [email protected].


Why does the CEO or leader of a company have such an impact? Because of the relationship between leaders and followers. Think about this:

  • 15 percent of the population will follow an idea because they think it’s a good idea

  • 40 percent will follow that idea when it becomes a rule or law

Figure 1

Figure 1

Sample of ZAC job descriptions, duties and accountability.

Figure courtesy of John Wayhart.