Make work a safer place

Tammy Minter

After working for 35 years to help employers create safe work environments and help employees recover from workplace injuries, I’ve learned about the importance of connecting people through safety programs. Since businesses can’t succeed without people, everyone is in the people business.

Businesses can start by inviting their employees to participate in creating and implementing safety programs. That way, everyone benefits. You don’t need a 5-inch thick safety binder no one reads or an orientation that lasts for days no one remembers.

It’s also important to understand lagging indicators and create leading indicators to improve safety performance. A lagging indicator is a near miss, an incident, accident or result of an action. Lagging indicators are easy to measure and offer insights to prevent further incidents from happening. Leading indicators provide information that reduces risk and encourages employees to be proactive in preventing events. 

According to the National Safety Council, a worker is injured on the job every 7 seconds, and 104 million production days were lost in 2017 due to work-related injuries. The top three workplace injury events resulting in lost work days were attributed to overexertion, contact with objects and equipment and slips and falls.

The top five occupations with the largest number of workplace injuries involve service, including firefighters and police; transportation; manufacturing; installation, maintenance and repair; and construction.

Here’s another number to consider. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers pay almost $1 billion a week in direct worker compensation costs alone.

Don’t allow your employees to become a statistic. Don’t wait for something to happen before you start emphasizing safety. Understand the risks and communicate them to employees. Ask for their suggestions on how to minimize risks. The individual who works closest to the risk typically understands how to prevent problems. Moreover, employees who help create controls and rules are more willing to comply.

Understand the definition of the general duty clause.  Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires each employer to furnish to each of its employees a workplace that’s free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. So even if it there isn’t a standard involved, the general duty clause addresses the situation.

Once you understand your exposure, you can put leading indicators in place, including:

Job-specific training that includes demonstration of competency.

Machine-specific inspections.

Routine inspections that can be completed by managers, supervisors or employees. If lagging indicators are strains and sprains, focus on processes and how employees work. Are they working harder or smarter?

Incentives for employees  who solve problems.

Incentives for safe practices.

An employee safety committee that works to improve processes, solve problems and report results.

Vehicle inspections.

Prehiring reference, criminal and motor vehicle record checks.

Prehiring tours of the workplace and demonstrations of certain tasks.

Regulator training.

Businesses can jump ahead of the competition by creating a safety performance matrix and tracking monthly performance by department or employee. Selecting leading indicators that change the environment and tracking outcomes help to verify effective systems are in place to avoid incidents.

Additional information and resources are available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Labor and workers’ compensation insurance carriers.