Few managers deliberately set out to hurt, sicken, or kill people in their organization. Yet many managers (often unconsciously) accept that there will always be some injuries and, regrettably, maybe even a death. Many times these incidents are called “accidents.” Too often, they are the predictable outcome of a culture, process, and system that is an accident or sickness waiting to happen. Research proves that the huge gap between very healthy and safe organizations and their much more dangerous and deadly counterparts in the same industry or location is no accident. Organizations with exemplary safety records and very healthy people (much lower rates of sickness and disease, less absenteeism, reduced stress, etc.) achieve their high performance through strong leadership.

I have been speaking at a growing number of health and safety conferences for associations and companies. I have delivered two keynote presentations on leadership and safety at Syncrude Canada’s Safety Symposiums in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Syncrude operates a massive oil sands plant in Fort McMurray (it was fascinating to tour this sprawling facility by helicopter while I was there on one trip). Syncrude has been investing billions of dollars in expanding their operations while still running the gigantic plant. The hundreds of contractors building new facilities and upgrading existing ones have brought thousands more people to the thousands of Syncrude people already working there. Despite a sharp increase in total hours worked on their enormous site, accidents and injuries have remained very low. Their record is among the best in the world.

Syncrude’s Safety Symposium and follow-up town hall meetings involved all the senior executives and a few board members. Their absolute determination to reach zero injuries is impressive. It is a key part of the culture there. Everyone from frontline worker to all levels of management is deeply involved in various health and safety initiatives that also incorporate quality and productivity improvement. Of course, they all go together. Processes that produce lower quality products are generally inefficient and more prone to costly errors that reduce productivity. And, predictably, poorly managed processes or systems produce “accidents.”