This is the first of a series of articles designed to help organize your thoughts on either constructing or renovating your corporate Safety and Health Program. Most of the industrial and commercial contractors I work with have an SHP in their office bookshelf ... somewhere.
I will refrain from describing most of the programs I’ve reviewed, since this would give them more credit than they probably deserve. Many programs are probably photocopied off another corporation’s written policy, downloaded from an insurer’s Web site, cut-and-pasted from articles in trade magazines, or simply composed of a set of pre-punched, weekly safety toolbox talks published by a firm intent on selling first-aid kits and powdered Gatorade by the pound.
These “plans” have little to do with the contractor’s actual on-site hazards and the appropriate control methods developed to prevent them. When I ask the roofers in my safety training classes if they personally own, have ever read, or else maintain an on-site copy of their corporate SHP, only 5 percent reply yes. Less than half have ever been specifically trained in the contents by their employers. A program without implementation and evaluation will ultimately protect no one, including the owner.
Free Advice Can be HazardousOver the past few years, I have received dozens of phone calls from roofing and general contractors asking for “a little” advice in the construction safety field. They’d all like me to solve some specific safety-and-health problem over the phone and still have
enough left of a 20-minute lunch break to eat. I call these the “over-the-counter” safety remedies. Basically, most of these contractors want to know how they can improve their safety “image.” Let’s not forget, in the real world, workplace safety has just as much to do with public relations as it does with personnel protection.
In one recent call, after a few minutes of informal introductions and cordial chit-chat, I dropped the hammer and asked the first of my two “show-and-tell” questions:
“Why do you care about your employee’s safety?”
This is always followed-up by a hesitant reply: “What?”
“Give me at least five, no, make that 10 reasons why you care about the well being of each of your employees.”
OK, I know this isn’t why he called, but I couldn’t resist. “Well, think about that one and call me back when you have at least one.”
I decided to fill the painful silence with a second question: “How much are you willing to personally sacrifice for a single worker’s health and safety?”
“What are you talking about?” he asks. I can hear the frustration building. He really just wants to know the answer to one of the following questions:
- What is the best way to be compliant with OSHA regulations?
- I’ve received an OSHA violation. What can I do about it?
- How can I lower my Workers Comp rate before it bankrupts me?
- The mill won’t let me bid on these jobs because my Employer Modifiation Rate is too high. What can I do to lower it before the next bid?
It is regrettable, but no one in the last decade has ever mentioned a concern for the lives and health of their employees as the primary reason for their call. I always figure that the caller will hang up right about at this point, but as of yet, no one has. My father suggested to me that free advice is usually worth twice what it costs. Professional safety and health consultation is contracted for either an hourly rate (estimated) or lump sum (fixed) and is never cheap. But any consultation fee is just pennies on the dollar compared to what may be spent in radical corporate safety surgery. Every safety problem or issue can be followed directly back to the necessity for a comprehensively written and effectively implemented SHP.
To those of you who may have called me in the past to ask for free safety program advice, I apologize if I was impatient, overly technical, rude or all three. The following coaching guide to writing your own safety and health program is my mea culpa.
Call me back.
Writing the Mission StatementWhenever I discuss occupational safety, I usually focus on the tangibles and try to avoid any philosophical slippery slopes. This is the closest I will get to the philosophy of safety: I find this is very difficult to explain, but every employer must have his own personal motive for composing his corporate safety and health program. It’s no use borrowing a good-looking one from someone else.
The first page you come to after you open any corporate SHP cover should be the owner’s mission statement. It is typically a clear, concise one-page statement, signed and dated by the CEO, in which he or she communicates a series of important values and goals to the employees. It is a brief “good-faith” contract that the owner signs to his workers. It represents the employer’s motives to provide the “safe and healthful workplace” mandated by the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act.
Both the written SHP and the mission statement should be updated annually. The work environment and economic status of every contractor changes yearly, as do the hazards that employees face. While every mission statement is as different as the personality and character of the owner, they all orbit around a basic center of gravity: the concept that profitability and safety are one in the same goals. I have seen many versions, but just some of the more common commitments that the CEO enumerates, include:
Safe work practices are a condition of everyone’s employment in the company. The SHP should not resemble an “add-on” procedure but rather thoroughly mixed into the job-site labor and material every day.
“Zero Accidents” is not an abstract philosophical concept but rather the daily work ethic for which the employer is more than willing to pay a decent salary. It’s only through constant hazard awareness and ongoing training that injury and illness costs can be reduced and eventually eliminated altogether.
Productivity and profit are not the standard operating procedures required to reach an accident-free work place. It’s simply the other way around.
Consider the daily health and safety of each of your coworkers to be at least as important as your own. Make it everyone’s daily goal to see to it that a coworker makes it home safe and healthy to his family every night.
Only direct employee involvement in their own safety and health on the job will ensure the financial success and security of the business that feeds everyone. Entitlement in workplace safety raises everyone’s personal standards as well as expectations of others.
Sign of the TimesI arrived at a contractor’s job site one morning only to find the employer’s Corporate Safety Mission Statement actually painted in 6-inch yellow letters on a black
8-foot by 8-foot sign fastened to the side of the job-site trailer. This is what it said:
1. Any injury that can occur on this job site can also be prevented.
2. Each employee is responsible for preventing injuries to ANY of his coworkers.
3. All hazardous working exposures can be identified. All identified hazards can be safeguarded using three controls: Engineering; Administrative and Personal Protective Equipment.
4. Continuous training is the best safety tool we possess. Everyone is expected to learn a safer way to work.
5. There are only three ways out of an accident: Injury, Illness and Death. None of these are acceptable on my job sites.
6. All work shall be prioritized: 1) Safety 2) Quality 3) Productivity
7. I expect to pay you for terms 1 through 6.
8. Compliance with terms 1 through 6 is a condition of your employment with this firm. Your work attendance indicates your acceptance of these terms.
At the bottom of the sign was the signature and telephone number of the employer.
Motives from ScratchWhenever I ask an employer to develop a mission statement it is always
“from scratch,” without looking at any examples. I often encourage the owner to take a breath, sit back, relax and imagine him/her at the annual company picnic. Try it. It’s a beautiful June afternoon and you’re enjoying the green grass and blue sky and warm sun as you watch an employee softball game. As each of your employees comes to bat, look at his/her wife/husband and family sitting on blankets along the sideline. Watch his coworkers, friends and neighbors cheering for him. He’s not only an employee who enables your firm to exist and prosper, but he is also a father and husband, with civic and personal relationships extending throughout the community. This is his care-share group.
The future of his family, neighborhood network and employer, all of which he represents, rests on his ability to participate in every activity without fear of injury or illness. Therefore, it’s your mission to “take care of your share” and see to his wellbeing during working hours. If you employ several dozen workers, there may be hundreds in this care-share group that would be directly affected by the injury, illness or death of any worker. They are affected emotionally as well as fiscally. Close your doors due to a catastrophic accident and you could possible impact the stability of your economic community.
You should consider the root-causes of potential accidents (unsafe work practices, unsafe site conditions, lack of training, etc.) that hang by a thread above your employees every day. Next realize how many days or shifts an employee works for you in his lifetime and multiply that by your employee roll call. Almost 45 percent of a worker’s waking life is dedicated to his/her employer’s productivity. From cradle-to-grave, that can amount to more than 100,000 work hours for an average retired employee.
ConclusionOver the length of your shift at the corporate helm, your primary ethical goal should be to reach zero accidents in your workplaces. This won’t be achieved by chance. Someone must be responsible for making a business plan designed around workplace safety.
Our workplace policies should now include emergency actions to be taken in the event of violent assault and terrorism. If an employer is responsible for the lives and safety of all of his crews, this could amount to tens of millions of man-hours surrounded by thousands of hazards exposures in just a few decades. The substantial equalizer in this equation is the only administrative hazard control considered primary by OSHA: the
corporation’s SHP. If integrated into every procedure and taught to every employee, it may even stop a bleeding artery, prevent an amputation or avoid respiration of a toxic vapor in time to save someone’s life.
Start by writing a letter to your employees explaining where, when, how and, most importantly, why you want to lead them to an accident/injury/illness-free workplace. Be courageous. Ask for their advice, opinions and suggestions on workplace safety. After all, it’s their SHP, not yours. Sign it, date it and put in their pay envelopes next week and you’ve actually begun the task.