As industry leaders, we have a responsibility to create a safe work environment, and the way that we uphold that duty will significantly affect our employees' quality of life. When it comes to protecting the health and wellbeing of our work-force, a goal of “average” is not good enough. We all must strive for faultless safety records and foster the will in our employees to achieve them.

Several years ago I began examining Hayward's safety performance against other pro dealers, and I found that we were doing a reasonably good job. However, when I later compared our safety performance to companies in other similar industries, it became apparent that we could reduce our injury incidence rate to one-tenth of its current level. Then I discovered an unprecedented benchmark at DuPont: The company not only believes that an accident incidence rate of “zero” is possible, it is achieving it in manufacturing/distribution locations comparable to our own. I was in sheer disbelief!

When I asked some friends I know at DuPont how they achieved this, they said you can only reach zero by awakening the will within your people to achieve zero. In other words, as long as your culture and belief system says that it is all right to have accidents, then you will have accidents. If your focus is zero, then your culture no longer believes that it is OK to have accidents.

In 2003, we had one of our better safety performance years. With annual sales of $130 million and 450 employees, we had 56 injuries (20 first aids and 36 worker's comp reportable incidences, of which eight resulted in lost time). Good, but not zero.

If doing the right thing for your people is not enough to awaken the will to achieve zero, I can assure you that the current cost of worker's compensation insurance will be a turbocharger. Since 2001, our cost per person for worker's comp insurance in California has grown 300 percent. In real terms, while adding only 75 employees in that period, our premiums have gone up $1.3 million. To manage the costs, we have taken on significantly higher risk and higher deductibles. If we manage our safety rate in accordance with our better, average, and worst years, our respective costs will be around $1.4 million, $1.7 million, or $2 million. On the other hand, if we can awaken the will to achieve zero, our annual costs could be under $1 million. The difference between average and zero is $700,000 on the bottom line. So, either we can figure out a way to sell another 10 million studs to create $700,000 in profit or we can awaken the will to achieve zero.

The right approach here is to improve safety, and I personally will lead the charge at Hayward. We will upgrade the functional components of our safety practices and further empower our safety managers. We will create significant financial incentives that motivate management by rewarding safe behavior and significantly penalizing unsafe behavior.

But these steps are only the basics. Starting the engine and putting these initiatives into gear requires awakening will. We must help our team members understand how to constantly connect being safe with the quality of physical interaction they want in their personal lives. It is only by awakening the will to live life in a body without pain or disability that we can develop a culture capable of achieving a zero accident rate. In this environment, not only do individuals behave safely, but the will becomes so strong that team members look out for one another. Ultimately, we must all harness the power of this support system and strive for a perfect safety record.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Bill Hayward is the president, CEO, and Chief Sustainability Officer of Monterey, Calif.–based Hayward, the 2003 PROSALES Dealer of the Year.