Workplace Solutions Safety program management

Support a culture of safety excellence

Why should establishments develop and implement a safety and health program?

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Responding is Ines Sira, vice president and general manager, global safety, Wesco International, Minneapolis.

Although worker deaths and injuries have decreased 60% and 40%, respectively, since OSHA’s creation in 1971, and improvements to worker safety and health have been made, more than 5,000 people still die on the job every year, with another 2.7 million people suffering a severe work-related injury.

To combat the steady number of workplace injuries and illnesses, OSHA recommends employers implement a safety and health program to complement existing regulations to help keep employees safe and promote a culture of safety excellence. Further, as global labor markets continue to tighten, important financial benefits can be gained by keeping workers safe and productive, including minimizing costs associated with increased downtime.

Implementing a safety and health program is no simple task, but it has many benefits. In addition to helping reduce the number of workplace injuries and illnesses, this type of program offers five key advantages.

1. Improved hazard awareness. One key component of a safety and health program is a “find and fix” approach to workplace hazards, empowering employers to coach their teams on how to identify hazards they may not have recognized otherwise. This can lead to a heightened level of hazard awareness in the workplace and at home.

The “find and fix” mentality also enables employers to establish their appetite for risk and demonstrate a commitment to safety. When workers raise concerns over a hazard that’s been identified, it gives the employer an opportunity to move swiftly to correct the issue and improve the safety of the operation.

2. Increased employee engagement. At the most basic level, establishing a program that emphasizes the importance of personal safety and health shows workers that their employer cares about them and their well-being. But the benefits of employee engagement go above and beyond that.

Developing and implementing a successful safety and health program requires full participation, and when an organization decides to start on its safety excellence journey, it creates many opportunities for workers to get involved and add value. From getting buy-in on written safety and health programs to getting boots on the ground for safety inspections, a successful safety and health program incorporates workers at every level and from every department within an organization.

Having their voices heard and their contributions acknowledged allows workers to feel valued and can lead to increased engagement.

3. Social and corporate responsibility. Historically, news stories about workplace safety often emphasized the negative, specifically when an incident or death occurred. Although featured stories on companies with successful safety and health programs are less common, they’re gaining in popularity.

Consumers are also increasingly socially conscious. According to Markstein and Certus Insights, 70% of consumers want to know how the brands they support are addressing social and environmental issues, and 46% pay attention to these efforts when making purchase decisions.

4. Increased profit margin. A successful safety and health program can nearly pay for itself, as several studies have shown. For example, the average cost of a workers’ compensation claim is around $40,000. And that’s just the direct cost. Indirect costs such as increased workers’ compensation, insurance premiums and lost productivity often add up to about four to six times as much as the direct cost related to the injury. That $40,000 injury soon becomes a potential loss of nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Implementing a safety and health program can help reduce these costs by preventing injuries and illnesses altogether or reducing the potential severity of an injury.

5. Regulatory compliance. OSHA can issue criminal penalties in cases of extreme negligence on the part of the employer in the event of an employee injury or death. Recently, the operator and six management officials of a corn mill were indicted by a federal grand jury – in a case involving an explosion that killed five workers and injured 15 others – on nine criminal counts, including two counts related to willful violations of federal workplace safety standards for grain handling.

These kinds of incidents are preventable. Implementing a safety and health program can help ensure your company follows applicable OSHA regulations to help prevent injuries and deaths, and reduce the risk of penalties.

Although a safety and health program provides an effective framework for protecting workers, to be successful in sustaining a companywide culture of safety, these five best practices must be considered:

1. Start at the top. Leadership endorsement of creating and sustaining a culture of safety is integral to success. Commitment to this core value is defined by consistent engagement from business leaders – working hand in hand with the environmental, health and safety staff – to identify safety failures and implement changes to effectively avoid harm. Leaders should regularly conduct safety walkarounds to experience firsthand the challenges that employees may face. Armed with this insight, leaders are in a better position to develop and implement new policies and guidelines designed to protect hardworking employees.

2. Core company value. Although many companies promote a commitment to safety, if the topic isn’t included in ongoing, strategic discussions among key stakeholders, this notion of commitment could ring hollow. Company priorities will change over time. Ensuring the safety and security of workers should represent a core company value and be integral to every strategic discussion. Identify opportunities to include safety-related updates, best practices, and lessons learned in an internal newsletter or weekly email communication to keep workers apprised of new guidelines and underscore a company commitment to building and sustaining a culture of safety.

3. Effective transparency. Be clear about existing workplace challenges your teams may face. Engaging associates in this process will help effectively address red flags in a timely and thoughtful manner, ensure swift remediation, and avoid any future missteps related to known issues.

4. Report and analyze. Implement tools to report near misses and leverage data to help continuously improve. Regular safety walkarounds across all locations can help more accurately track and analyze near misses and apply lessons learned to ensure the safety and security of all workers.

5. Reward engagement. Consider safety awards for individual locations based on activity and training. Incorporate related key performance indicators to actively engage workers and encourage participation. Prioritizing and incentivizing training demonstrates a company commitment to creating a culture of safety.

There should be no greater priority than ensuring the safety and security of workers. An effective safety and health program can provide the framework for doing so and serve as the bedrock for a culture of safety excellence.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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