You hear about workplace injuries and deaths from time-to-time, but do you know how often they really happen?
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2015 – 48,000 fewer than 2014.
- The National Safety Council reported that the average cost of an injury is $34,000
Together, this means $98 Billion was spent on workplace injuries in 2015. That’s $98 billion…with a B!!! Although the rate of workplace injury continues to decline, this is not a time for complacency. One injury is one injury too many. Reducing and eliminating injuries altogether must be the sole purpose of implementing a safety culture, not just safety practices. Creating a culture of safety will contribute to employees engaging in safety practices which will bring safety incident numbers down even more.
Workplace safety must be top of mind for everyone who finds themselves in a company that requires physically demanding work or operation in a potentially dangerous environment. Even executives and employees who rarely or never work in the field need to be aware of the safety standards and be fully committed to supporting and enforcing them. At the worker level, it is important for them to understand the ripple effect of their behaviors, where many unsafe practices have the potential to impact other individuals and the organization as a whole and everyone has the responsibility to prevent unsafe behavior and dangerous situations.
When every individual in the company feels accountable for their actions and have a strong commitment to building a safer work environment, the results include fewer incidents, greater loyalty from employees who feel protected, and often higher profits. How do you get there? Here are four steps to make your work environment as safe as possible.
1. Attain Commitment from Leadership
Safety starts at the top. When employees don’t feel that leaders are invested in building a safer work environment, they do not go the extra mile to protect themselves and those around them. It is the leadership team that has the power to implement safer standards, better equipment, and proper training. Individuals on the ground can do their best to stay safe and support each other, but unless leadership provides the necessary resources, they will be limited in their ability to implement safety protocols.
Leadership can take some steps to demonstrate a strong commitment to a safer work environment such as:
- Investing time and resources in the development of safety protocols
- Ensuring all equipment and materials meet safety standards
- Make certain that all employees have access to the necessary safety equipment
- Provide and invest in ongoing safety training at every level
- Require leaders to know and follow all safety guidelines
- Mandate safety practices throughout the entire organization
In addition to a commitment from the top, leaders must also be accountable to model the right behavior and coach individuals who are still learning how to successfully operate in a safe environment. Leaders who have experience with safety processes, especially those who operate in the field, must feel a responsibility to be proactive in modeling and coaching. Rather than just correcting behavior when it is wrong, they should take every opportunity to demonstrate and teach best practices.
2. Develop and Maintain Detailed Safety Standards
You cannot expect employees to adhere to a certain standard of safety if they don’t know what is required of them. The specific safety protocols will vary by industry and function, but it is critical that all processes are clearly defined, including who has responsibility for various tasks. Safety standards should also be living documents and not just static binders or manuals that live on a shelf or in a digital document. When incidents occur, refer to the documentation to see what went wrong, why protocols were not followed, and how the process can be improved. Continuously improving safety processes is an essential step if you want to reduce incidence rates and create a safer work environment. Understanding why an injury happened and how you can prevent it in the future will enable the prevention of avoidable mistakes.
Although the responsibility for developing safety standards lies with leadership, everybody should have an opportunity to participate. Safety processes often improve with input from the people who actually perform the job. Supervisors might have the necessary expertise to develop a process, but once it is implemented, the individuals doing the work often have insights about how to make it safer or more efficient.
Periodically reviewing safety processes with the people who actually perform them can be enlightening and rewarding for both supervisors and employees. When individuals feel empowered to share their thoughts about how to make their work environment a safer place, they feel more invested in the outcomes. The entire organization benefits from a more engaged workforce and fewer safety incidents.
3. Instill Conviction at Every Level
Every single individual in the organization must feel accountable for their own safety and that of their coworkers and the surrounding environment. However, building conviction doesn’t happen overnight. In addition to leading by example and requiring compliance, leaders must also find a way to communicate that the critical role of every employee is to ensure a safe environment.
In order to feel conviction around building a safer work environment, employees must feel they are part of something larger than their workspace, their department, their region, and even the entire company in its current state. When they consider the life of the company and the potential consequences of safety mistakes, workers are more likely to consistently adhere to safety practices. Highlighting the concept that their own actions can affect other individuals in the company both now and in the future creates a sense of accountability that they might not otherwise consider on their own.
Some of the key factors in building employee conviction include:
- Helping employees realize that they control more than they think they do
- Committing the organization to the mantra of never letting a teammate fail
- Ensuring supervisors and other leaders are open to their suggestions
- Creating an organizational culture that empowers employees to step up and speak up
When employees feel personally responsible for ensuring a safe work environment, they take initiative and behave proactively. When every employee feels this way, they support each other and work together to make improvements that have lasting effects.
4. Train Early, Often, and Effectively
Instilling conviction starts before an employee is even hired. The culture of safety should be so strong that it is incorporated into the hiring process. After coming on board, new employees must be properly trained in all safety protocols before they dive into the work. If you want to send the message that safety always comes first, put it into practice.
Simply handing over a manual for an employee to read it is not an effective means of teaching, especially if you want them to incorporate new behaviors into their daily work. Learning by experience is a much more effective way to absorb new knowledge. Hands-on job training is an obvious way to employ experiential learning, and it can also be used to teach more abstract concepts, like the importance of maintaining a safe work environment. By playing out scenarios that demonstrate the impact personal actions (or lack of action) can have on others and the organization, workers will understand that what they do matters. This will lead to conviction and a sense of accountability in their day-to-day work.
In addition to early training for new hires, ongoing learning will keep safety protocols fresh in the minds of workers and reinforce that leadership is invested in their well-being. Knowledge fades over time, especially new information that is not yet fully ingrained. By participating in regular training sessions and learning activities, workers will be constantly reminded to implement safety practices and to stay vigilant.
Make the Investment in Building a Safer Work Environment
By following the above four steps—getting commitment from leadership, developing and maintaining safety protocols, instilling conviction, and investing in training—you will build a safer work environment. Not only will you improve the practical elements of safety processes, but you will also contribute to a culture of safety in which every individual in the organization is committed to their own safety and that of those around them. Workers will behave proactively to identify potential issues before they become problems, and they will look out for each other in a supportive manner.
What is a safe work environment worth? In addition to the ethical reasons for maintaining a safe work environment, consider this: According to the National Safety Council, the average cost of a workplace injury is at least $34,000. This is just the direct cost; the indirect costs can be much greater and might include:
- Lost time of the injured worker
- Lost time of other employees
- Accident investigation time and costs
- Equipment damage and repair
- New employee training for replacement
- Legal fees
All of these costs will vary by incident, but it’s easy to imagine how costly a single safety incident can be. Investing in safety training and creating a culture of safety can not only save money, but can also save lives in the long run. Are you ready to invest in a safer organization?