The following is the address given by Mike Jones, Executive Director of the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba, during his opening remarks of Day Two of CSAM- THE Safety Conference:

CSAM - 2015Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Mike Jones and I am the Executive Director of CSAM, the organization behind the CSAM -THE Safety Conference.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to day two of our conference. I am very impressed with the leadership of Manitoba’s construction sector shown by the number of registrants in the conference this year. We will be handing out over 3000 training certificates from our conference workshops from yesterday and today.

Because of you, this conference has quietly grown into North America’s largest construction safety conference; Canada’s second largest safety event and, most importantly, the absolute BEST safety conference in Canada.

2015 celebrates 25 years of the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba Through the years we continue to work in the best interests of Manitoba companies to provide effective and practical solutions to create and maintain safer workplaces.

There was some great discussion during our sessions yesterday around the subject of buy in and how building a safety culture can have a positive effect on all aspects of a business. It reminded me of a story of Paul O'Neill, who in 1987 was the new CEO of Alcoa (a global aluminum producer). He was giving his maiden speech to shareholders. Most CEO's probably would use this opportunity to get shareholders excited that they were going to focus the company on increasing sales and reducing costs, for improved shareholder return. But O'Neill had a different plan.

He opened with …“I want to talk to you about worker safety.”

O’Neill went on to talk about their incident rate and lost time incident rate which already was better than the normal rate, especially considering that their employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and have machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it was not good enough O’Neill intended to make Alcoa the safest company in America.

Eventually, one of the shareholders raised a hand and asked about inventories in the aerospace division. While another person asked about the company's capital ratios.

O'Neill held firm, “I’m not certain you heard me. If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures”. He was adamant that if they bought the injury rates down it will be because the individuals at the company had agreed to become part of something important and devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. The Safety record was going to be an indicator that they were making progress in changing habits across the entire institution.

O'Neill harnessed the strong human need for group identity to build a thriving organisation. Activating peer pressure is an effective way to get a group to persuade others to act in a certain way

O'Neill never used the word "I" in his speech. Saving lives wasn't about him. It was about the group - it was about the workforce.

He used a shareholder meeting, to let his staff know, that he wasn't there to increase shareholder returns. He was there to improve their quality of life, to ensure that they would arrive home safely at the end of the day. By launching his first speech to outsiders, he powerfully communicated to staff, just how committed he was to improving their workplace. That he could be trusted. That he was on their side.

Within a year of this speech, Alcoa's profits hit a record high. By the year 2000, when O'Neill retired, Alcoa's market capitalisation was 5 times more than what it was in 1987.

O’Neil used the power of worker buy in and a positive safety culture to change the fortunes of his company, it sounds like our discussions yesterday were very much on the right track.