Safety first: Implementing a hazard-avoidance company culture reduces costs

One of the best ways to prevent workers’ compensation costs is to avoid accidents in the first place. Businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA, however, also reports that a business can reduce its illness and injury costs by 20 to 40 percent by implementing a safety and health culture.

While implementing this culture may seem like a daunting task, it is really quite simple — if you have the right tools.

Evaluate dollars, sense

Setting up a safety culture in your workplace keeps employees informed and protected while on the job, says Ibraheem “Abe” Al-Tarawneh, superintendent of the Division of Safety & Hygiene at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

“Our data shows that employers who participated in the BWC Safety Intervention Grants program in the past managed to reduce the frequency and cost of injuries in the area of the intervention by 66 and 81 percent, respectively,” he says. “It is also a cost-saving module. Safety tends to improve productivity and morale and protects the most valuable asset of a workplace, which is the employees.”

In addition to the in-house savings, implementing a safety culture also translates to decreased workers’ compensation costs because having a strong commitment to safety and accident and injury prevention in the workplace helps companies prevent claims, Al-Tarawneh says.

Preventing claims reflects positively on your company’s experience rating, which translates to decreased workers’ compensation premiums. Enhanced experienced ratings also qualify companies for other Ohio BWC programs that can provide them with additional discounts.

There are several discount programs tied to safety. The Ohio BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene sponsors more than 81 safety councils across the state; employers can earn a 2 percent rebate by actively participating in one of these councils.

In addition, they can earn an additional 2 percent performance bonus rebate for reducing the severity or frequency of injury in their workplace by 10 percent or maintaining both at zero.

The Ohio BWC sponsors the Safety Intervention Grants program, which was expanded as part of Gov. John Kasich’s recent Billion Back rebate. Employers can receive a 3-to-1 matching grant up to $40,000 per eligibility cycle to purchase equipment that will substantially reduce inquiries and illnesses associated with a particular task or operation.

In exchange for the grant money, employers give the Ohio BWC follow-up data showing whether or not the intervention did reduce risks. The Ohio BWC then shares the data so Ohio employers may learn from it. The program is open to all private and public Ohio employers that pay into the State Insurance Fund.

Eligibility cycles differ depending on a business’s payroll; this scale can be found at www.bwc.ohio.gov or by asking your Ohio BWC representative.

Create a plan

Al-Tarawneh says implementing a safety culture is simple. First, companies should make safety part of the company’s mission. There then needs to be a commitment by the leadership of the company.

These leaders should show an example by adhering to the specific company’s safety policies — for example, wearing protective eyewear when applicable or conducting regular training sessions.

These policies should be available to all workers and communicated regularly. Depending on your company, you may also have certain OSHA regulations. For example, if your company uses certain chemicals, you will need to have a hazardous item identification process in place.

To determine other safety policies, your company can conduct safety audits on a frequent basis.

“Depending on your company, if you have the experience, you can conduct this audit in-house,” Al-Tarawneh says. “However, you can also use an outside private consulting firm that will be able to provide you with the expertise you need. And any employer in Ohio can use our services, which are generally provided for free, as well.”

One of the most overlooked parts of setting up a safety culture is lack of enforcement. While one part of enforcement is the responsibility of leadership (and will be part of your company’s leadership commitment), the other part is the responsibility of the employees.

To foster employee accountability, get employees involved in the development and implementation of safety policies. Ask for employee feedback on what policies they would like to see, form a safety committee that will implement the policies and encourage employees to hold one another accountable.

Some of the best ideas for solving and mitigating hazards come from the employees who are exposed to them daily. Enforcing a safety culture also translates to instilling behaviors in employees that encourage safe practices.

“Changing behaviors is not easy,” Al-Tarawneh says. “People are always occupied with getting the work done. We sometimes overlook the fact that the U.S. worker is the most productive worker in the world. But sometimes that means finding ways to get things done quicker, sacrificing safety.”

To change these unsafe behaviors, stress the importance of safety over speed and provide thorough training for each job duty. Over time, these safety measures will become part of your employees’ thinking process as they perform work tasks and enforcement will become less of a problem.

Your company can also consider an incentive or recognition program to reward employees who practice safe behavior. Employees observed practicing safe behaviors could receive verbal recognition at a company meeting or a reward such as a certificate or a gift card.

Find help

The Ohio BWC offers several services to help employers implement safety cultures and create safety policies in their workplaces. It provides more than 80 different safety classes in 12 locations around the state and also offers online classes.

In addition, it has a video library of safety DVDs that employers can rent for free.

“We want business leaders to know we are here to help them,” Al-Tarawneh says. “We are their partners in safety. We invest in these aids because we believe the best thing we can do to reduce the cost of workers’ compensation is prevent claims from happening in the first place.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION visit bwc.ohio.gov or call (800) 644-6292 to connect with an Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation safety consultant for assistance developing effective injury and illness prevention strategies.