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How to integrate risk management, safety into corporate culture

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Making risk management and safety a priority at any company begins with effectively communicating the benefits of having a risk-averse culture, and leading executives dictate the nature of that culture, experts say.

So it's important to get those executives on board to support all risk management and safety programs, said Jackie Kamstra, global environment, health and safety analyst at Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic shoe, apparel and accessory maker Nike Inc., which has about 60,000 employees worldwide.

Executives want to know how such programs can help grow the business, profit and build the company's reputation, Ms. Kamstra said during a session last month at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s conference in New Orleans.

The session on engaging an organization in risk management and safety focused on how risk professionals can tailor their messages to appeal to executives, managers and front-line employees.

“You may not generally profit, but you're certainly saving expenses when you have a strong safety program” by keeping employees at work and engaged, said Eva LaBonte, Nike's workers compensation program manager.

A top concern for executives is human capital, so risk professionals should emphasize that their programs lead to healthy employees who are at work and productive, experts say.

“Risk management makes employees feel safe,” Ms. LaBonte said. “If things happen, the rest of your risk management program is there to cover them. ... When you have a sense that your organization cares about you, then you're more engaged.”

Meanwhile, middle management is concerned about how a risk management and safety program will fit with their other responsibilities, Ms. Kamstra said.

Show them how the program will “make their lives easier and better” since they're “curious about how it will save them time and energy,” she said.

It shouldn't just be about injury rates, “because a lack of accidents doesn't mean you're being safe,” Ms. Kamstra said. “You can go for three years as middle managers and your programs can be doing great, but then a catastrophe can happen. So build those strong programs and get all of your employees engaged in safety.”

While risk management and safety is “never” the focus of a company, it is “the foundation” and “the support behind what our company does,” Ms. LaBonte said.

She added that people won't engage in a program if they don't feel it's important, which is why each message to executives, managers and front-line employees needs to address how risk management and safety specifically will benefit them.