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Tips for Safety Program Success

- May 2, 2014 by Keith Schmedes (View all posts by Keith)

As with most things in life, the failure of a safety program can be analyzed and steps taken to turn things around.  I still see a lot of companies using “canned” programs that they picked up at some point and stuck on their shelf to meet the OSHA requirement.  The program with that is that most of these “canned” programs are the size of phone books, which generally indicates to OSHA (and me) that the program, in all likelihood, is not being used. You would think that such a large document would have all the needed elements for an effective safety program, but they usually don’t.  A big binder sitting on a shelf is not a safety program, it’s a decoration. Your safety program is a reflection of everything managers, supervisors and employees do to keep everyone safe on the job from following procedures and wearing personal protective equipment to investigating accidents.  Here are some tips to take your giant binder and turn it into an actual safety program.

Get employee buy-in.  Large canned programs do not work for the simple reason that most workers, including supervisors, don’t see how the program affects them. Here are some simple steps to create buy-in for your safety program.

  • Top management must provide the leadership in this effort, but the primary focus of the safety effort must be from direct supervisors.
  • Workers should have a part to play in what the safety program looks like and what safety rules are adopted.
  • Supervisors have to enforce the safety program.  If your supervisors are not requiring safe work behavior, then all other efforts are doomed.
  • Your program should be applicable to your workplace.  Keeping it simple and focused will ensure that it is easy for everyone to understand.

Safety is a profit center.  Top management must be aware of the savings associated with investing in workplace safety.  The return on investment for $1 spent on workplace safety is estimated to result in at least $3 in savings.  For every dollar an insurance company pays for a claim, the internal costs borne by the company are between three and five times greater (Return on Investment), with some sources suggesting the company spends even more than that. When an accident occurs in the workplace, the direct costs of the injury appear in the claims data, but the internal costs you bear for replacing the injured worker, retraining, damaged product, delivery delays, damaged customer relations, to say nothing of your time, add up quickly.  According to Liberty Mutual, a claim with direct costs of $15,000 ends up costing the employer somewhere between $45,000 and $75,000 (Return on Investment). It is vital to the long term success of your program to factor in the costs of accidents in the profit and loss statements that are generated.

Walk the walk and talk the talk.  Communication, or the lack of it, plays a vital role in the reason safety programs fail. If employees don’t hear top management talking about safety, they will assume it is not important and they would have the right to!

Managers are your company leaders.  If they don’t stress employee safety or they ignore it, employees will follow their lead.  Likewise, if managers do not follow and enforce the safety rules, they are communicating that safety is not important to them or the company.

Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is the only way to let employees know what is important. Safety meetings, new employee orientation, and safety performance awards presented by upper management all show those involved where your concerns lie. Trust me, if there were quality or production issues, the entire workforce would be made aware of it, and on a daily basis, until the problems were solved.  Why should employee safety be any different?

It will be a collaborative effort to keep your safety program viable but the rewards are well worth it!!