When Larry Page first envisaged the Google search engine, he most likely did not say to himself, “I want to create the world’s safest workplace… and perhaps a decent website too”. Yet, despite this clearly not being his main goal, Google’s workplace has been praised by many business writers. It is a clean, fun and, above all, extremely safe environment where employees work harder because they value where they are.
Is Amazon a Safe Place to Work?
Compare this to another internet giant. Amazon, once a tech startup with big ideas, has since become the largest retailer in the world. Yet their workplace leaves much to be desired in the eyes of their employees and of critics. Jay Carney, Amazon’s vice president, has responded to these allegations by claiming that the Amazon workplace is a great one. However, the damage may already have been done. Reputations are hard things to control. If the public thinks that you mistreat your employees and allow them to work in dangerous or miserable conditions, then that image will stick.
Every Business Was a Startup Once
So what can the next generation of startups learn from these two multinational giants? It’s hard to imagine it, but both Google and Amazon were once startups too: hungry, naive, and hopeful. In the years since one of those two companies has built a reputation for itself as a business that takes care of its employees. The other? Not so much. Your startup may only have a handful of employees, but putting in place decent health and safety regulation now will help you in the future. You may not be Google today, but if you emulate their aim to create a positive work environment, you may one day become as big as Google. As Patrick Hull puts it, “think like a bigger company and act like a bigger company so that you can grow to become a bigger company”.
It Pays to Be Safe
The idea that safe workplaces make for better business plays out far beyond the story of just two companies. OSHA, the American federal organization responsible for health and safety, calculate that for every $1 spent on safety, businesses can save between $4 and $6. This is a large margin and a large claim, but it makes perfect sense. Safer businesses have fewer accidents, and fewer accidents mean fewer lawsuits, less compensation and less sick pay.
A Safe Attitude Means a Safe Workplace
Still, putting aside all of the costs of injured or ill employees, a safe workplace makes sense for many other reasons too. The Amazon case shows that the public cares a lot about the safety of a company’s workforce, but the people who care the most are your employees. A safe workforce is a happy workforce and a sad workforce is a workforce more likely to put themselves into dangerous situations. That is not just conjecture, it’s science. Moreover, the evidence to back that science up is so compelling that the British government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are creating training courses for British employers which explain how a bad attitude to work can lead to a bad attitude to safety. HSE believe that the reverse is also true, and they have the evidence to back up their claims. A safer workplace creates a positive feedback loop; respected employees respect their employers more because of they, in turn, feel more respected.
Safety Shouldn’t Be An Afterthought
Safety is far too often seen as an added extra in business. It is to some entrepreneurs what grammar is to some writers; unnecessary rulemaking that stifles creativity. However, just as good writers know that grammar is essential for writing, so too should entrepreneurs realize that safety is essential for business. For any startup, health and safety should not be seen as an afterthought, but as an integral part of their dream of a great company.
About the Author:
Justin O’Sullivan is a safety writer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Storage Equipment Experts, a business which specializes in providing racking inspections and racking inspection training for startups, SMEs, and big businesses. He is a passionate believer in workplace safety and has dedicated both his writing and business career to it.