I was recently hired as a safety consultant by a construction contractor who presumed that his 40 employees were well protected on the job. Indeed, on first examination, most pieces of the employee protection puzzle certainly appeared to be in place. There was a complete written safety and health program. The company also purchased a state-of-the-art interactive computer safety-training program and spent thousands of dollars on the best safety director. There was even a company-wide safety incentive program.
Yet this employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurance rate was almost $0.45 for every payroll dollar. In the previous three calendar years, there was an average of nine lost-time accidents per year. The company’s experience modification rate was 1.38 and had risen from 1.21 since the previous year. After inspecting the majority of his current work sites and interviewing most of his employees, it was evident that this employer was confusing an adequate safety program with implemented safety management.
An obvious gap existed between what the employer intended and what his employees practiced. Yet when asked if they believed that they worked for a safety-conscious firm, most workers replied “yes,” insisting that this company was doing more for their safety than any of their previous employers. Everyone had at least some safety education and was minimally equipped. The employer was convinced that he was at least enabling them to work safely. Most employees believed they were enacting safe work procedures most of the time. The prevailing attitude was “Accidents are bound to happen.” After all, most believed this was a construction company and a certain amount of loss was to be expected.
Everyone assumed that zero accidents were impossible to achieve. Conversely, as I continued to survey the workforce, most believed that it would be a coworker and not themselves, that would be involved in an accident or become injured on the job. It was also believed by many that the employer’s overhead was there to absorb such losses. Such discrepancies between perception and intention could possibly lead to a disaster of unexpected proportions.
Radical Safety ManagementSafety management, when practiced effectively, is a continual process of inspection, performance and reevaluation. Simply put, it never ends. There are hundreds of safety management programs on the market today, available in book, video and/or CD format. Their marketing technique usually guarantees to remove your “safety headaches.” But lowering your insurance costs, reducing workplace accidents and near misses, and reducing lost work time, are expensive, time-consuming endeavors that must involve everyone from the CEO to the laborers employed by your subcontractors. The following are six radical suggestions that could begin to revolutionize your corporate safety management.
Understand Your PartUnderstand that your firm comprises you as well as everyone on your payroll and everything on your property. Personally partake in a fearless survey of all your employees to determine their perceptions of existing conditions and future objectives. Inspect all of their hand and power tools, equipment and vehicles. If your firm’s success has made you a paperwork slave, spend a day a month actually laboring on the job. As a desk jockey, you’ll never figure out where the accidents are rooted.
Commit to ChangeUnderstand that there aren’t really any little changes when it comes to safety. You have to keep on changing as long as you’re in business and you want to remain at zero accidents. There will be inevitable conflicts and compromises every day, not just in the beginning. Expect to make some middle management adjustments as necessary. Compromises and experiments are a good way to change. Establish your standards and continue to change them. No one promises that this is easy, comfortable or cheap. But smart money is better spent than dumb money.
Yield ControlIt would be ludicrous to simply “give up” the safety reins of your firm to your employees. But sharing job-site safety responsibilities by assigning duties, designating competent persons and/or rotating your staff through the safety committee is a good start. Enable your supervisors or foremen to assess their job sites on a daily basis with a Job Safety Analysis. Give them as much time as it takes. Encourage them to solicit crew suggestions for the best way to remove or reduce hazards.
Profit sharing can also be thought of as safety sharing. Not only do employees better maintain tools and equipment, but they also look out after the safety work practices of their coworkers. Paying a higher Workers’ Comp payment comes out of the year-end profit check just as surely as replacing abused and damaged tools. Smart money rules over dumb money again.
Get InputYou’ve already paid them to be on the job, why not get a field report from the people who know what went on today? The minimum OSHA standards are very clear on this matter. Your corporate safety and health program is intended to belong to your employees. One recommendation is to return the corporate safety and health program to each employee annually, with instructions to mark up and revise it as they see fit. Then the employer should review and evaluate the revisions to rewrite the program so that it is truly improved as well as workable. This ultimately saves lives, reduces lost-time accidents, improves productivity and insures profitability. Smart money over dumb money.
Learn to ListenHazard communication is about identifying hazards and then doing something about them. The primary hazard control method is engineering – remove the source of the hazard or guard against its effects. The secondary method is administrative. Examples might include safety training and evaluations to confirm that the training is actually being practiced.
Several OSHA standards mandate that the employer conduct pre- and post-hazard debriefing meetings to review the operation and get employee input. Pre-job briefings typically allow the Competent Person to describe the steps of the job, the hazards associated with each step and the appropriate safe-work practice or condition abatement to be taken. Post-job debriefings are designed to have the crew inform the CP of the real existing conditions vs. the assumed conditions, effective vs. ineffective procedures, as well as the unexpected vs. projected hazards encountered on the job.
The CP must learn to listen if communication is to close the circle of conception and reality. At least half the job requires adequate listening skills on the part of the trainer as well as the trainee. Middle management personnel must continue communication to upper management. For most human beings, listening is a learned skill. Unfortunately, employers are often too distracted with operations to learn to listen to their employees. The penalty is devaluation of the payroll. Ask for their recommendations concerning their job safety. Smart money vs. dumb money.
Anticipate EverythingNow there’s a management challenge if I ever heard one! The OSHA standards are filled with words like “potential,” “probable” and “possible.” The employer is expected to know the phases of work being done by his employees as well as any potential hazards associated with these steps. Next he should implement the appropriate hazard control to reduce or eliminate them. Hazard awareness can be read as “danger anticipation.” Under the worst conditions, what could possibly go wrong and what are the most severe consequences? The military compares probability vs. severity when it assigns duties to personnel trained and equipped to an equivalent level. It’s a time-tested model and a practical policy that could prevent losses on the job.
ConclusionOnce a decision is made to devolve your on-the-job practices and create a new perpetual safety culture, be inventive. Don’t be satisfied with anything and you won’t become complacent. One employer I know brings the crews into the shop early on one Friday every month and he doesn’t spare the pizza and sodas. He mingles with them and asks how he can make the job safer. Then they all inventory, clean and inspect their tool crib, tagging defective equipment “out-of-service” together. Soon the employees realized that his commitment to their well being was real. They began to feel connected to the success of the company and soon believed that they could achieve zero accidents. They now have over 100,000 man-hours without an OSHA recordable, and their next target is a half a million hours. It has become the workers’ safety program, and they and their employer are enjoying the benefits.
Give it an honest effort in your firm. If it doesn’t match your management style after six months, at least you have become more knowledgeable about your personnel and they have taken some steps to becoming more safety conscious. This may be one of the few times when safety can be daring.