It is widely believed that employees are a company’s most valuable assets. Yet in the course of meeting customer demands and managing unpredictable daily operations, many businesses overlook the importance of having a thoughtful workplace safety program in place to protect their most valuable assets.
At its core, workplace safety is about employers caring about their people and employees caring about their own safety and the safety of others. It’s about doing the right thing and protecting the people who are integral to the long-term success of an organization. Successful workplace safety programs target prevention as the primary means of reducing injury frequency and severity of any potential accidents.
Taking a strategic approach to workplace safety not only helps make the workplace safer for employees, it also results in operational and cost benefits for the business. As a result, workers’ compensation costs decrease, fewer overtime costs or economic sanctions accrue, productivity increases, and improvements are made in regulatory compliance, employee retention, and employee/management relations.
Consider that studies from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicate that for every $1 invested in effective safety programs, $4–$6 may be saved as illnesses, injuries, and fatalities decline. By creating a culture of safety in the workplace, everyone benefits.
An effective occupational safety and health program will include the following five elements. The level of detail and complexity with which a program addresses each element varies from employer to employer, but all programs should include every one of these elements.
1. Commitment from Management and Employee Involvement
The most effective workplace safety programs start with an authentic commitment from management that makes safety a strategic imperative across the organization. Effective, comprehensive safety programs start with a management culture that keeps everyone accountable. Without leadership involvement and a commitment from the top, none of it works. This level of commitment requires management to provide visible leadership in collaboration with employees to develop, implement, and continuously improve the company’s workplace safety initiatives. In an effective program, management pursues worker safety and health with as much vigor as its other organization goals.
Employee involvement provides the means through which workers develop and express their own commitment to safety and health protection, for themselves and for their fellow workers. A program that is developed and implemented without employee involvement is less likely to have the employee commitment that is essential to its success. An effective safety and health program must meet the needs of both the company and its employees.
2. Worksite Inspection and Analysis
A variety of worksite examinations are required in this aspect of the program. The purpose of these analyses is to identify not only existing hazards, but also conditions and operations where changes might occur that would create hazards.
Lack of awareness of a hazard that stems from failure to examine the worksite is a sure sign that safety and health policies or practices are ineffective. Effective management actively analyzes the work and worksite to anticipate and prevent harmful occurrences, and encourages employees to point out hazardous situations as they occur.
3. Hazard Prevention and Control
Once hazards or potential hazards have been identified as part of the worksite analysis, the company must consider prevention and control measures. Where feasible, hazards should be prevented by effective design of the job site or job. Where it is not feasible to eliminate hazards, they must be controlled to prevent unsafe and unhealthful exposures. Elimination or control should be accomplished promptly after a hazard or potential hazard is recognized.
4. Safety and Health Training
The safety and health responsibilities of all personnel are addressed through training. Safety and health training is most often effective when incorporated into other training about performance requirements and job practices. This prevents safety and health responsibilities from being viewed as separate, less-important requirements. The complexity of the training depends on the size and complexity of the worksite, and the nature of the hazards and potential hazards that exist.
5. Long-Term Commitment
The employer must make a long-term commitment to a safety and health program for it to be effective. Employees must understand that unsafe acts are unacceptable. Management must use a series of progressive actions that reflects the company’s continuing concern. These actions might begin with verbal warnings and culminate in termination of the employee for continuous failure to comply with company safety rules. Management must make it clear that it takes safety seriously and is willing to back up its policies; otherwise, the program is just another piece of paper.
It is important to develop a program that will meet the needs of both management and employees. An elegant safety and health program manual that describes protective measures that are seldom put into practice serves no useful function. This is why management is encouraged to involve employee representatives in the development of the safety and health program and to encourage their continued participation in company safety and health efforts.
Managers and supervisors should demonstrate their responsibility for safety and health by becoming familiar with the safety responsibilities and activities of all personnel reporting to them and providing support in any way required; providing maximum support to all programs and committees whose function is to further the cause of safety and health in the workplace; assisting all personnel to develop safety skills and knowledge, providing rules and procedures to guide the safe conduct of employees, and personally following the safety rules; and providing a system of recognition for successful safety performance.
Ultimately, through a proactive and thoughtful approach to workplace safety, businesses can simultaneously keep their most important assets—their employees—safe.