The A B C's of Safety in the Workplace
Every day in the United States, approximately 12 people will go to work and never come home — 4,405 in 2013, as reported by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). These people leave behind families, friends, and co-workers. Not only that, every week over 63,000 workers will suffer a workplace injury, many of which result in the injured worker becoming partially or even totally disabled.
Disabling injuries that involve a week or more away from work cost U.S. employers more than $53 billion a year in workers’ compensation costs alone. These are mostly preventable injuries that disable workers, devastate families, and damage our economy. What’s even worse is that a great many of these deaths and injuries could have been avoided by paying more attention to safety.
The most common cause of these injuries is being complacent; an attitude that “it won’t happen to me.” Businesses often have good safety programs on paper. They have the manuals, the forms, the training, and the meetings. Yet these activities don’t lower their employee accident frequency and/or severity rates or their workers’ compensation insurance costs. What’s wrong? It may be that the company and employees are not committed and empowered to work together to prevent accidents and the conditions that lead to them. The company’s “Safety Culture” is not developed. To create this culture of safety, both management and employees must be aware of and involved in the day-to-day safety operations of the company.
Employees need to know the answers to the following questions about safety:
- What’s in it for me? [Physical well-being; ability to enjoy family and hobbies; having a secure future; future salary increases; improved benefits]
- What’s in it for the company? [Staying competitive (i.e., staying in business); improved profitability; expanding the business; improved productivity; providing secure jobs; improved employee morale]
- What’s in it for my fellow employees? [Improved morale; improved teamwork; not having to “cover” for someone out of work with an injury]
Management sets the tone by:
- Setting the example [Do as I say and as I do]
- Involving employees in the program [We are the program]
- Making safety expectations clear [What am I supposed to do?]
- Providing guidance [How am I doing?]
- Providing for safety skills improvement [How do I do it?]
- Correcting unsafe acts [This is the way it is to be done and why]
- Providing a safe workplace [Control or eliminate the hazards]
- Maintaining two-way communication with employees [He said, she said, we said]
Employees become involved by:
- Participating in company safety activities [Meetings, inspections, trainings]
- Watching out for unsafe acts by their fellow employees and telling them about them [Would you let someone step in front of an oncoming car?]
- Correcting or reporting unsafe conditions [If you can, do it; if you can’t, report it]
- Making suggestions for improvement [What’s the problem, and how should it be fixed?]
The safety culture then becomes a part of the employee’s off-the-job activities as well [wearing safety glasses when using a hammer, etc.]. It becomes a way of life.
Managers and supervisors can fall into the complacency trap by becoming distracted from pressing safety issues. They can become more focused on getting the job done rather than getting it done safely. They can stop paying attention to the importance of safety and become blinded to the fact that the lack of attention to safety performance is hurting the entire organization in the long run. Unfortunately, it usually takes a serious injury or a visit by OSHA to get their attention and have the company put the focus back on safety. Don’t let this happen to your organization.
When managers and supervisors don’t make safety an equal priority with production and quality, it’s easy for employees to make personal safety a low priority. Management at all levels can have a profound effect on the safety culture of an organization. Once employees see their supervisors and managers taking safety seriously, they are more likely to be committed to following the safety rules and guidelines. To create a safety culture in your organization, remind everyone that complacency can be dangerous. Safety is not management’s job; it’s everyone’s job and responsibility. Nothing energizes an organization’s safety improvement efforts more than having employees getting involved.
This change in culture won’t happen overnight; it will require time and effort on everyone’s part. It takes more than just saying you are committed to safety. You have to put actions behind your words. First, make sure that all relevant safety programs are in place and up to date. It’s imperative that safety rules are implemented and followed by all employees at every level of the organization. To assist in your safety program, utilize a safety and loss control representative. Their experience and knowledge can help with your compliance and training needs so you can attend to the issues that mean the most to your business.
The end goal is that everyone goes home at the end of the day in the same condition as when they arrived! Your company’s safety culture goes a long way to ensuring this. The employee’s attitude drives and changes employee behaviors, which in turn affects and changes the safety culture of your company. The ABC’s of safety!
About the Authors
Jim Bartasevich has been a safety and loss control consultant for Paychex for more than four years. Jim was previously a safety consultant for Liberty Mutual Insurance Group for 35 years, where he provided consulting, evaluations, and training services for policyholders in a wide range of businesses having 10 to 3,500 employees: manufacturing, fleet, construction, construction materials, healthcare, food processing, and mercantile. Jim was also a past president of the local chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers and a Certified Safety Professional.
Laurel Ferguson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational safety and a Master of Science degree in environmental health and safety from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has over 35 years of experience at companies such as Eastman Kodak Company and Monroe County Strategic Environmental Management Initiative, and served as an Independent EHS and ISO consultant. She is currently a safety and loss control consultant for Paychex.