Many companies today have a strained relationship with worker safety. There’s a certain leaning toward cost reduction that encourages a leaning away from safety. Despite workplace injuries be liabilities to firms large and small, some leaders still elect to deprioritize the wellbeing of their workers. The truth is that ensuring a safe workplace can be accomplished without compromising profits or angering shareholders. While reducing risk carries incentives such as avoiding fines and reputation damage, there is an even more important reason: It’s the only honorable thing to do. Luckily, business leaders don’t have to choose between worker safety and profitability. There are seven viable ways to improve operation while keeping workers’ risk low. As luck would have it, they’re presented here in convenient blog-post format.
Every Level of the Organization Must Be in on It
The CEO must be vocal about safety being a priority, down through middle management through to entry-level employees. Follow this with action reflecting the sentiment. Many companies have a policy requiring executives to be informed of major incidents as soon as they happen. This is followed by a review of each incident. When operational staff know that C-suite officers take their individual safety so seriously, it keeps middle management aware of injury prevention.
A study of 19 manufacturing companies found that as safety declined, so did quality and productivity decline correspondingly. It concluded that if employees don’t feel safe in their jobs, they’re not incentivized to do their jobs well. Safety and productivity were found to be factors that must be seen as in concert, rather than in competition. LyondellBasell, a top international plastics, chemical, and refining firm, incentivizes safety with a policy saying that if there is a major incident, such as a chemical release or serious injury, no manager receives a bonus.
Don’t Blame the Workers
Human error is inevitable. Many jobs that carry risk of injury are difficult ones, and employees are going to make mistakes from time to time. To ensure that incidents don’t lead to major injury or death, a well-designed safety program will take the inevitability of human error into consideration by implementing several backup systems. Remember that in almost every case, major incidents stem from multiple factors, rather than a single negligent individual. Identifying these factors and controlling for them is paramount.
Useful Perspective on Injury Rates
Injury rates are sometimes called, “OSHA recordables,” and represent vital statistics. These metrics shed light on what your workforce experiences in their daily lives on the job. Such reports are called lagging indicators because they only reveal what requires immediate attention and do not offer a diagnostic evaluation of your safety program in general. It’s recommended that you adopt a goal of zero injuries while acknowledging the fact that you will likely never achieve it. This may seem counterintuitive, but setting a goal of increasingly lower injuries implies that it’s acceptable for some people to get hurt. That doesn’t set the stage for success in the minds of those on the production floor. Striving for zero does. It must be said that while the goal may be technically unachievable, accurate incident reporting cannot be compromised.
Leading Indicators are Your Friends
A leading indicator is one that can be used to predict major events like injuries and deaths. These help guide a company towards its safety goals. They could involve hazard identification, investigation into events, and others, but the main thing here is to tailor your leading indicators to the needs of your industry and unique business. You don’t need perfection right off the bat. Start small and let your leading indicators evolve with your safety program. Senior management needs to use them as guiding lights for the program, and they should play a significant role in managerial performance payments.
The Virtue of a Robust Safety and Health Management System (SHMS)
Also commonly known as an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, it is iterative and designed to be continually improved. Their guiding principle is the Deming Wheel, which is a cycle of Plan Do Study Act. In order to function properly, management and operational workers alike must be clear on it. If there’s a union for your workers, it needs to participate as well. Identification, assessment, and control of hazards are vital elements. There also needs to be continuous education and training for workers, as well as continuous evaluation and improvement to the program itself.
OSHA Inspectors are Cheap Consultants; OSHA Fines are Low Consulting Fees
An executive for a major chemical corporation once commented on how he viewed OSHA inspections as cheap consultations. He had the perspective that the fines his company had to pay were much lower than compensation would be for an industrial hygienist, but the quality of the report was about the same. He looked as the OSHA inspection result as a valuable resource for reducing health hazard, and you should too. Research has yielded an important statistic supporting the value of OSHA inspections. A visit from a regulator leads to an average 9% reduction in workplace incidents resulting in worker’s compensation claims during a four-year period after the inspection. How much would a 9% reduction be worth to your firm? Probably a lot less than what the regulator will fine you. The researchers also stated that they could not discern any detraction from sales, credit ratings, worker wages, or other business-health metrics resulting from an inspection.
The benefits of prioritizing safety are shining and obvious to those who would observe. The truth is that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you. Investing in your workers’ safety is one of the greatest investments you can make in your firm, and you can take that to the bank. These seven tips and perspectives offer an opportunity for managers to reduce liability, increase profits, and sleep better at night.