How to build a strong safety culture Featured

11:51am EDT February 1, 2012
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.