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Workplace Safety: Why and How to Make It a Priority

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Workplace safety is the cornerstone of success in any company. Unfortunately, many companies lose sight of this which results in great human suffering and lost profits. One troubling example of this is the growing number of workplace fatalities —from 4,551 to 5,190 over eight years—as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses,” reports OSHA, “expenditures that come straight out of company profits.” The safety administration adds, “These costs can be the difference between operating in the black and running in the red.”

Poor Safety Compliance: The True Costs

Injuries are expensive, more so than many companies take into account. For example, OSHA states that a single laceration costs a company, on average, $41,000.

Measurable costs include insurance claims and raised premiums, paid time off, hospital bills, worker’s compensation, and ongoing rehabilitation. If legal action is taken, add in lawyer fees, potential fines and settlements, and time and effort spent handling the case.

Indirect costs, while more difficult to calculate, can have long-lasting effects. Poor compliance commonly results in loss of productively, lowered morale, decreases in worker retention, retraining, hiring temporary workers, possibly defective products, damaged equipment or facilities, and poor public image.

This last item has many costly tendrils. It can lead to customer boycotts and PR costs to turn the tide on poor perception, even after safety has improved. The public memory is long and high-quality workers are likely to look elsewhere for jobs. Valuable workers want to be valued.

Excellent Safety Compliance: The Many Benefits

The good news: there are many upsides to creating a strong safety culture and compliance! To start, fewer accidents, most of which are preventable. The most common causes of injuries are not a mystery. By addressing this low-hanging fruit, you’ll be off to a great start.

The top ten causes include fatigue, stress, collisions, trips and falls, and lifting. Simply getting workers to be mindful and providing them with adequate break time can help eliminate these.  

Coming up with effective safety solutions will eliminate the costs mentioned above. Think about how much you could do to improve safety with all of those $41,000 laceration cases you’re preventing.

In addition to reducing your financial burden, your safe environment will be home to a workforce that is more productive, loyal, and satisfied, and turning out a quality product more consistently. Your good reputation will attract better workers. And, employees who experience a strong safety culture tend to return to work more quickly after an illness or injury.   

Get Specific, Go Beyond Regulations

To create an excellent safety program and attain your zero-injury goal, you need to address unique hazards in your environment. Meeting regulations is a great start, but they are general, and your work space is specific. Think of regulations as capping out at a C grade; you’re aiming for an A+.

Walk the floor regularly to determine which hazards your employees face. Seek creative solutions to reduce or eliminate these potential injuries. Recognize where your workforce has the greatest number of issues and dedicate your first efforts there.

Electric car giant Tesla recently strengthened its focus on safety and discovered that many injuries in its Fremont, CA, car manufacturing plant were caused by poor ergonomics—another top common cause of workplace injuries.

The company addressed ergonomic shortcomings and reduced employee overtime. Laurie Shelby, VP of EHS at Tesla, recognizes these efforts as a key reason the factory’s 2017 total recordable incident rate improved by 25 percent, compared to 2016. Tesla  got specific about the causes of injuries in their factory and how to fix them.

Be Proactive

Many safety rules come about in response to an accident. This is a natural and reasonable reaction. But the goal should be to prevent accidents before they happen. This requires being proactive.

Get creative! Imagine the ways that employees could get hurt. Pay close attention to situations where things are beginning to go sideways and halt them in their tracks. Little issues today become bigger issues tomorrow: sweat the small stuff.

How to Create a Strong Safety Culture

You may be anticipating injuries and have an excellent safety plan ready. But to make it work, your staff must be involved. You need to educate them about safety effectively. You also need to listen to feedback to improve safety protocols and get compliance People don’t like being commanded to behave; in order to thrive, they need to be empowered.

Communicate the Importance of Safety and Repeat Often

From the moment an employee is hired, you need to clearly communicate that safety is the company’s top priority. No new hire should start work until all safety protocols have been thoroughly addressed and all PPE assigned.

Employees also need to understand that there is a no-tolerance policy when it comes to noncompliance. Make sure they understand the consequences of foregoing safety measures and that you will accept no excuses.

Beyond that, give workers contact information about who to address with questions, how to report safety violations, and how to suggest safety improvements.

Follow initial safety training with regular reviews and safety meetings for all employees. Distribute safety reminders on a weekly or even daily basis. Repetition is the key to making protocols second nature and to keeping safety in the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Because different people respond to different kinds of messages, spread your safety messaging in a variety of ways: posters, videos, or hands-on demonstrations. Get creative with workforce education. Keep it fun, interesting, and fresh for yourself and your workers.

Involve Your Workforce

Involving your workforce in creating, improving, and implementing safety protocols is critical to attaining compliance. Solicit feedback. Designate safety captains or small safety groups that serve as a conduit between workers and management.

Workers are intimately familiar with the equipment and situations that pose safety threats. Let them be your eyes and ears.

Let them know you’re listening. Acknowledge input and tell workers what you’re doing in response. Publicly reward those who make the extra effort; be specific about how that person’s contributions are helping. Celebrate no-injury days, weeks, and months with the entire staff.

There is No “I” in Safety

Workplace safety requires a constant team effort. Emphasize that one person’s lapse could result not only in them getting hurt but also someone else getting hurt. Encourage workers to be mindful of what goes on around them, and to offer help or suggestions when warranted. Employees should also feel comfortable asking for help.

Going back to common causes of injury, look at lifting. Employees need to be taught how to lift properly, yes, but they also need to know that asking for assistance is welcome. Similarly, if someone sees a co-worker lifting improperly or struggling, they need to understand that it is their duty to help.

Prioritize Safety and Everyone Wins

It’s often said, If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. This applies as much to individuals as it does to companies. If your workforce is safe and healthy, your company can thrive. If not, the company will suffer. It’s that simple.


Author bio:

TJ Scimone founded Slice, Inc. in 2008. Working with world-class designers, he creates safer cutting tools for home and industry: box cutters, utility knives, and craft cutters, among others. Every tool features ergonomic design and Slice’s proprietary finger-friendly® blade edge.

Slice’s website: www.sliceproducts.com