How an American icon shifted gears on workplace safety

Jul 27 2016

Whether you are an avid golfer or fisher, reader or jogger, gardener or cook, the opportunity to leave your current job to work for a company that deals directly with your passion is one that you most likely wouldn’t pass up.

Indeed, the idea of working for the preeminent American motorcycle company Harley-Davidson probably sounds like a dream come true for those gearheads among us who have a love of all things motorcycles. According to company officials, however, working for the company was more akin to a nightmare in the not-so-distant past owing to a checkered health and safety record.

Indeed, as recently as 2009, an astounding one out of every 12 employees at the Harley-Davidson plant in Milwaukee suffered some manner of recordable injury, meaning one that requires more than just first aid and must be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  

Fortunately, real change came later that same year with the introduction of new corporate leadership who introduced a new mandate for improved employee health and safety, summarized by the mantra, “provide safe work and work safely.”   

In order to realize this vision, Harley-Davidson took some of the following steps:

  • Enhanced emphasis on communication, education and recognition, meaning monthly safety meetings, comprehensive post-accidents reviews and orientation for new hires
  • Implementation of a workplace risk assessment program, in which risks were color-coded according to the urgency with which they should be addressed
  • The construction of so-called lifestyle centers at factories, providing employees with everything from occupational medical care and rehab services to drug testing and work conditioning

As to whether this overhaul was a success, consider that as of last year, the company’s injury rate stood at one in 200, and that it received no citations from OSHA for serious or willful workplace safety violations. In fact, Harley-Davidson’s goal is not a single recordable injury in 2018.

It’s encouraging to see how real and meaningful changes in workplace safety can occur when a company makes the necessary commitments. Here’s hoping more employers learn from this example.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you’ve suffered serious work-related injuries and would like to learn more about your options for securing work comp benefits.