Safety and Health Programs: Can you make your company
The safety update – is your company a statistic?
No one wants an unsafe work environment. But unsafe or
hazardous spots in your environment must first be reported
before they can be corrected. That takes cooperation from
all employees, including those reluctant to blow the
In 2004, more than 6 million work-related illnesses and work
place injuries occurred in America. The biggest culprit is
repetitive stress or motion injury, often requiring surgery
that can keep a worker grounded for weeks. Workers’
compensation rates are increasing. Insurance companies will
decline coverage to employers with high accident rates.
57% of OSHA inspections were construction related and
another 22% were in manufacturing.
OSHA reports that 32% of work-related injuries occur in
goods-producing industries and 68% are in services
industries. The latter figure shows that services industries
outnumber manufacturing, but it also shows service
industries are not free of accidents.
In FY04, OSHA’s inspections, regardless of reason or
industry, numbered nearly 40,000. With that level of
aggressive enforcement, zero accident rates are imperative.
According to OSHA, participants in its Voluntary Protection
Programs are saving millions each year because their injury
and illness rates are more than 50 percent below the
averages for their industries. And according to the Liberty
Mutual Research Institute for Safety, every $1 invested in
safety yields between $3 and $6 in savings.
Chronic under-estimates – does your
company track all costs?
Safety and health professionals know that reducing the risk
of accidents and illnesses can greatly reduce insurance
costs. Yet most businesses miscalculate the total cost of
accidents – costs beyond insurance. Unfortunately, such
miscalculation leaves management uninformed and, thus, more
likely to question the cost of safety and health programs.
One analyst separates direct costs from indirect costs.
Direct costs are related to specific incidents and are
conspicuous and easy to track, e.g. insurance and first aid
supplies. Indirect costs, however, involve non-cash
resources that are less tangible and conspicuous, e.g. legal
counsel, human resource department time, and retraining.
A matrix outlines the total cost impact, including eight
direct costs and thirteen indirect costs -- 21 distinct
costs that arise from each safety or health incident. Safety
management programs should keep track of all 21 costs.
“Organizations are beginning to realize that safety pays
tremendous dividends in terms of lower workers’ compensation
and insurance costs, as well as improved employee
productivity, morale, and retention,” said Alan C McMillan,
president and CEO of the National Safety Council, in a
recent Newsweek supplement.
Changing how employees think about the workplace – could
you be safer?
Safety managers – whether full time or wearing safety as a
second hat – can change unsafe work practices. A
well-planned safety program can turn even a part-time safety
manager into management’s new fast-tract hero.
Many companies’ safety programs are motivating employees to
be so safety conscious that accidents are reduced to near
zero. Such benefits are attainable through a systemic,
company-wide program that grabs employees’ attention and
changes their behavior for the long-term. But employees
must view the safety program as both fun and worth their
effort.> All this requires that “best practices” working
elsewhere be implemented to avoid common safety program
“Safety performance is a critical leading indicator of the
overall quality and competence of an organization,” said
ExxonMobil senior vice president Ed Galante in the same
Newsweek supplement. “It has been our experience that a
disciplined approach to improving safety performance
benefits all aspects of our operations. Our focus on safety
has also helped us achieve lower costs, better flexibility,
and higher plant utilization, all contributing to the bottom
“Whether your employee sustained an injury at work or at
home, the …employee is not at work,” said Liberty Mutual
president and CEO Edmund F. Kelly in Newsweek. “If
you support safe behavior as the culture at work, it will
most likely become part of the culture at home.”
How good safety and health programs work – can your
company do it?
Good business leaders understand human nature, care about
each worker’s well-being, and recognize that a company’s
employees are its greatest asset,” McMillan said. “For them,
employee safety is non-negotiable, uncompromising,
But in our competitive and frantic global marketplace, the
safety and health issue is not typically at the top of
corporate concerns. Effective safety programs cannot rely
solely on safety signs. As one expert on safety programs
says, “The key to success is execution.” Just focusing on
the positive – let’s all be safe – can boost company
morale and spell program success.
Successful safety programs focus on behaviors – what
people must do to be safe. Rewards should be positioned as
management’s expression of appreciation to workers for being
safe. Rewards should focus on successes and should be issued
immediately to maximize reinforcement of the behavior.
Rewards with some showcase value work better than rewards
that employees pocket or put away.
Such behaviors include one employee coaching another about a
specific safe practice, or daily notices and reminders about
upcoming situations that may need a heads-up. Such behaviors
include safety audits of specific environments to measure
progress toward objectives. But the reporting of near misses
must also be a targeted and encouraged behavior.
All safety programs must have management front and center as
the sponsors of the campaign. Such programs work when
employees see their supervisors and top management as
serious about safety, and when management views employees as
the key players on the safety team. After all, the employees
can probably list countless safety concerns with little
provocation. The question: why aren’t they coming forward
with the list? Not only may there be no incentive for them
to do so, they may also be scared to cite safety problems.
This reluctance is often the biggest hurdle to changing the
workplace safety culture for the better.
How safety programs go wrong – Are these too familiar?
A faulty definition of safety: Organizations that
define safety as loss prevention are not serious about
safety. Safety signs alone will not work. The culture must
change, not the signage, and the focus must be on
achievement and success, not losses and costs. Accidents can
no longer be seen as acts of God; they are a breakdown of
the safety system.
No teamwork: An effective safety and health program
is a three-legged stool: employees, their supervisors, and
management. But take one leg out and the program collapses.
Proactive participation is needed all around. Each member of
the team is motivated to change the culture toward zero
Unintended results: Programs that focus merely on
accident free days may actually discourage incident
reporting, leaving unsafe conditions to prevail unchecked.
Such incentives can infect employee morale with the notion
that management cares more about OSHA reports rather than
Poorly constructed objectives: Safety programs that
have no clear objectives cannot work well because employees
do not know what is expected of them. What’s more, the
safety manager cannot measure progress if no benchmark goals
and objectives are established at the beginning. According
to the American Society of Safety Engineers, the greatest
problem with safety programs is measurement.
When money doesn’t talk: Monetary rewards are not
effective. Employees subconsciously perceive it as a payoff
for being safe.
Safety program successes around the country – Could these
ideas work for you?
Successful safety programs are using unique incentives to
help change the workplace culture:
- Accumulated points used for merchandise redemption in an
- Achievement cards that, once filled, can be redeemed for
- Management randomly calls employees with safety questions.
Correct answers earned points toward merchandise.
Some case histories – Could you join this list?
- Oil rig safety is essential to Shell Western. A safety
program consultant helped the crew change traditional
thinking with The Plus System, an incentive program that set
new compliance standards for safe workplace ‘critical
behaviors.’ Employees were rewarded Achievement Cards for
adopting safe practices.
- Plastic products manufacturer Steere Enterprises Inc.
significantly dropped its annual $350,000 workers’
compensation premium. Employees were thoroughly briefed on
the programs progress with lunchroom safety scorecards,
pay-stuffers, safety audits, and other reminders. Employees
were provided with Achievement Cards each time they
exhibited a safe behavior practice over a six month time
- Property management firm Key Property Services assigned
field office personnel to study all aspects of safety for
six months. Employees received a checklist of safe practices
and earned ‘Safe Bucks’ (A Cards) redeemable for merchandise
from an incentive catalog.
How to get started
Safety programs, as mentioned, need balance to be effective.
Poorly designed safety programs can prompt employees to hide
accidents. The psychology of motivation is complex and a
rich body of corporate ‘best practices’ is available.
Starting without such knowledge will almost surely lead to
pitfalls that could have been avoided.
But starting from scratch isn’t necessary. A safety program
professional can show you how to set up a program nearly
free of administrative hassles and record keeping.
For more information contact:
Bob Dawson, CITE
The Business Group, Inc.