There are many benefits to having a safe culture. Safety leads to more productivity. It has a physical effect on employee morale. But one aspect that is inherent in nearly every organization is a difference between the reality and the perception of what is done for safety.

“If there are no injuries, employers may feel it is a safe organization,” says Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency. “But the perception doesn’t always match the reality.”

Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to improve company safety and ensure that your employees’ perception of workplace safety matches the reality.

How can you gauge employees’ perception of safety?

There is one key way to gauge perception: Survey on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be extensive. Some surveys have 500 questions, some have 10. The whole purpose of the survey is to have everybody be a part of the culture of safety, to realize that it is important.

You can have the greatest safety manual in the world, but if it is not being implemented on a day-to-day basis, or not being followed, it’s really just collecting dust on a shelf. By gauging the entire work force, you are getting employees involved in the process. Set a benchmark for where the company stands now, and as you move forward, do an annual assessment of how the business has matured.

With today’s technology, surveying is an easy and inexpensive way for a company to gauge its safety practices.

How can surveys help you improve safety?

People focus on the injury rate, OSHA logs and workers’ compensation injuries, but those are always lagging. They have already occurred. They’re good to discuss because you have to talk about them to prevent them from happening again. But a survey is more of a leading indicator. It can help you look proactively and see potential holes in a safety program before the injury occurs.

How can surveys affect employee perception of safety?

Often, management struggles with the implementation of safety practices due to breakdowns between management and frontline workers. Get them involved in the process. Allowing them to draw up problems makes them part of the solution.

If you establish a committee for surveying safety in a company, it has to be a cross-section of employees. You need management and front line workers to create buy-in. If your work force is unionized, you need someone from the union, as well.

Allow the people who historically are resistant to change to become part of the solution, and the buy-in will be a lot easier and results will be better.

People think committees slow things down. Although the beginning may be slower, the implementation is always quicker than it would be with a decree from management because you have a broad spectrum of people working together. If a plan comes down with an iron fist, people may be resistant, even if it is a good idea.

When you receive feedback, how can you incorporate that into your safety plan?

Let’s say you have a benchmark of a score from one to 10 and the average score on a particular area is four. That tells you two things. First, it’s the perception of the employees that this area isn’t as important to the company as it should be. If it was, they would have marked it a 10. Second, it says there is a hunger for it because they rated it low. They still want it. So the survey’s feedback is twofold. It draws out what your employees believe and what they are asking for because it is important to them.

Employers should take that feedback and say to employees, ‘We scored low on this area — how do we score higher?’ That allows groups to become actively engaged in solutions.

What impact can a favorable perception of safety have on the workplace?

Safety is a hard thing to measure. Especially in today’s world, where people try to measure the justification for everything, safety is atypical. It is not as black and white as, ‘I do this and get that,’ but the alternative — not focusing on it — can cost companies hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in the short and long term.

If you improve safety and the perception of safety, you will see huge improvements in morale and productivity. When people are safer, they are less prone to get injured, they are feeling good about their jobs, that their employer cares about them and their safety. They will work better, smarter and harder for you.

When a worker injury occurs, many employers say, ‘I had one workers’ compensation claim and then they all started coming out of the woodwork.’ Maybe there is a degree where people learn the system. But workers’ compensation claims happen when people are tired, are doing something they are not familiar with, or there are unsafe work practices. If one person gets injured, that job still needs to get done. The next people who do it may not be as familiar with it. They will get it done but may have to put in more time. As a result, they are more tired and stressed, working on not enough rest. They’re not concentrating as well as they could be, and boom — they get hurt.

The trickle keeps funneling down and it can have a huge impact. Your goal should be prevention of the first claim, because if you can prevent the first one, you may be preventing many claims that would follow.

Jonathan Theders is president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or jtheders@ctia.com.

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 01 February 2012 11:51

How to build a strong safety culture

Every company wants to believe it is a safe place to work, but are you doing what is necessary to create a culture of safety in your business?

If you’re not, an unsafe workplace can be costly, and not only in terms of disability and medical costs.

“In addition to the more obvious costs, there are many other reasons for employers to focus on improving safety in the workplace,” says Eric W. Sandoe, claims account executive with ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants. “Lost productivity as a result of replacing injured workers with other employees who may not be trained for the job they are being asked to do, higher insurance premiums and a hit to your reputation are only the beginning.”

Smart Business spoke with Sandoe about how to build and maintain a strong safety culture in your company.

Why is having a strong safety culture important for a business?

Having a strong safety culture brings large benefits to your business. One obvious benefit is increased productivity. Having fewer worker injuries means less down time. It reduces disability costs and the hidden costs from lower employee morale.

The cost of an unsafe workplace is much, much more than simply the hard dollar costs that the employer will pay for disability and medical treatment. The lost productivity caused by replacing injured workers with less experienced staff creates inefficiency and exacerbates the cost of injuries.

A safe workplace protects your business from higher insurance premiums, experience modification rates and regulatory issues. It allows you to bid for more work, especially if you are in any type of contracting business. Most important, it provides a strong reputation for your company and helps you attract the best workers available.

What must be present for a business to define its culture as a strong safety culture?

All levels of the business must be focused on safety and buy in to the idea of a safe workplace. There must be a focus on providing the proper equipment that is necessary to protect workers, such as machine guarding, safety glasses, earplugs and the like. Also, there must be proper ongoing training on lifting techniques and material handling procedures, and any other procedure where safety is required to protect from injury. Management must ensure that these and other proper protections are used at the proper time and that any violation is enforced. There must be constant review with all levels through seminars and other employee and management communication vehicles using lessons learned and real workplace examples. It should be stressed to all levels the costs associated and the jobs lost when these procedures are not followed.

How can a business build a strong safety culture?

Building a strong safety culture is not a top-down strategy. It should involve all levels of your organization. It means being committed to safety regardless of any other concerns in your business. Everyone must hold each other and themselves accountable for safety.

Employees should be encouraged to speak up and give their input to avoid injuries. Avoidable accidents should not be tolerated and regular training should be provided to prevent them. Constant communication is key, and the sharing of ideas to prevent accidents and injuries should be encouraged at all levels.

What are the keys to getting employees to buy in to this culture?

Companies need to create and implement a written program that is consistent with other policies and procedures and encourages employees to report concerns about safety conditions. It’s also important to ensure timely and appropriate responses to employees concerning known hazards, with real action plans in place to address and remove them.

Employees should be encouraged to report safety concerns without fear of reprisal from management and to help in the enforcement of work safety rules. For example, a company could tell an employee, ‘Joe, you need to put your safety glasses on before you get something in your eye.’ Not only is enforcing these rules in the best interest of the employees, but it is vital for employers, as well, because lost workers translates to lower profits and the potential for job losses.

What steps must a business take to maintain the culture?

Communication is key. Procedures must not be allowed to go stale. To keep everything fresh and up to date, these procedures must constantly be reviewed in light of any recent accidents or injuries. Reinforcement of current safety practices must be maintained through ongoing employee coaching and discipline where necessary. Ongoing training must be provided to demonstrate lessons learned and educate new and existing employees in proper safety techniques and procedures.

Metrics should be established to determine what is working in terms of reducing accidents and injuries. Then, those metrics should be reviewed and revised on an ongoing basis.

What results can a business expect from committing to safety?

Increased productivity is a given, due to the lower employee absentee rates that occur when a business commits to safety. Companies can also expect better employee morale resulting from a sense of buy in and reduced injuries. Another welcome result is lower insurance premiums and costs due to fewer injuries and workers’ compensation claims. Also, companies can expect a better overall reputation, which will help them attract the best and brightest workers. No exceptional employee wants to work in an unsafe environment.

Finally, companies will benefit from an increased ability to bid for work due to lower experience modification ratings.

Eric W. Sandoe is a claims account executive with ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1276, or esandoe@ecbm.com.

Published in Philadelphia