Safety is a basic, bread-and-butter issue that companies cannot do without. Many companies don’t realize that Safety is an element of Sustainability. Safety is considered a “social issue” for purposes of Sustainability programs and reporting, so external stakeholders are also interested in your company’s safety programs and performance.
We’re reminded of Safety in our daily lives: fasten your seat belts, make sure the ladder is sturdy before climbing on it, and don’t go into the crawl space under the house if nobody else is at home. The same issues affect you – and your employees – at work. There are compliance requirements, and possible fines or penalties. Workers’ compensation costs are a perennial challenge for CEOs. New and growing companies need Safety programs to maintain a safe workplace, reduce costs and risks, avoid fines and penalties. Here are five tips to starting a good safety program.
1. Know who’s included. This sounds basic, but it’s not. Full-time employees who work in your office are obviously included. You may have temporary or part-time employees. Interns – whether paid or not – are working at your direction and on your behalf; what if they get hurt? Contracted staff could be covered. Employees work at home or in remote locations could get injured. What if you have an employee who works in a shared office space in another city? What if a visitor trips while visiting your facility and breaks a leg? Growing, entrepreneurial companies use a variety of arrangements for resources, and these arrangements change quickly. Many people will be included in your company’s safety program; you should know this first – before you’re paying the medical bills for that broken leg.
2. Know the requirements, and why. In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and/or state counterparts, promulgate and enforce workplace safety regulations. There are similar agencies in almost every other country. Many companies adopt a policy to enforce the strictest safety regulations at all of their facilities as a matter of policy. Companies may agree to safety policies or activities in contracts with their customers, or to maintain membership in an industry association. You may be familiar with safety requirements from another company, but your company’s business may be different, and the rules may apply differently.
3. Assign responsibilities. “Safety is everybody’s responsibility” is true, although it’s not effective if there is no primary contact responsible for knowing regulations, managing the program (training, recordkeeping, etc.), and available to answer questions. This can be co-sourced or out-sourced, but a Safety Specialist is an excellent resource. S/he can make decisions when the requirements seem unclear, allowing you to concentrate on growing your business. The way to make Safety everybody’s responsibility is to embed it into standard operating procedures (SOPs) that people use for their everyday activities, and assign a primary responsibility for Safety support.
4. Provide guidance: A Safety Manual is a good practice. There are generic Safety Manuals available for purchase. These can be a good starting point, but I’ve seen companies have problems when they failed to take the next steps. Generic Safety Manuals do not state company commitments, assign roles or responsibilities, or provide safety guidance for what the company actually does. Some passages include: “training will be provided for……” or “problems should be reported to a supervisor…” or “monthly inspections should be done.” These statements provide general guidance, but what training was provided, and to whom? What supervisor(s) are supposed to be notified of problems; do they know it? What inspections are done, by whom, and can you document them? Without solid answers to these questions, you are documenting just how much your company ignores Safety.
5. Measure performance in ways that really help you. OSHA requires annual reporting using performance metrics that are now familiar: number of cases with days away from work; injuries and illnesses by type; and incidence rate. These metrics look backwards, and measure failures. Does the absence of a failure mean you’re doing a good job, or that you were lucky? Or that people were afraid to report something? Think of other performance metrics that align with operations, and help you measure the effectiveness of your program on an ongoing basis. For example, how many Safety suggestions did you receive last year? How many did you implement? How many “nearmisses” were reported, and what did you do to prevent a real accident the next time? Better performance indicators – and meaningful data to go with it – can reduce operational costs, insurance costs, and keep your operations running more smoothly.
A solid safety program will do more than meet OSHA regulatory requirements. It will keep your workforce productive (and at work!). It will avoid risks, and keep your operations running. Safe workplaces can also motivate employees, trigger suggestions to improve efficiency and effectiveness of operations (top line results!), and could enhance your company’s image.