Integrated Safety Programs: From the Top Down to the Bottom Line

Why is it so hard to get the safety job done?

SAFETY directors and responsible managers have been creating safety programs for decades. So why is safety still such a difficult problem to manage in today's workplaces? One answer is that all of the safety programs in the world won't work unless those responsible for a particular task or risk control procedure do what they are supposed to do.

There are often good reasons why employees don't get the job done. They don't have time, the priority is low, the knowledge is lacking, or they don't have the right tools. These problems have solutions, but the key is this--people must want to find the solutions.

Sticks vs. Carrots
Most companies have disciplinary systems that allow intervention and coaching in the event of employee errors or omissions. Unfortunately, these systems tend to focus on what is wrong, rather than what is right. When repeated intervention does not result in behavioral change, negative reinforcement may be applied.

Negative measures can lower morale and fail to engage employees in the overall management plan. Studies have shown that positive reinforcement is more powerful in effecting change in an organization's culture of safety.

Behavior-Based Safety is a Good Start
For more than a decade, companies that wanted to take their safety performance to the next level have experimented with observation and feedback-oriented behavior-based safety approaches. Some have led to success, while others failed because of overwhelming organizational or cultural hurdles. The behavior-based safety approach also points at the employee's behavior as the cause of accidents when, in fact, top safety professionals know that the root cause of accidents is the management system.

Leading and Trailing Indicators
One company that makes safety a priority is The Dallas Morning News (TDMN). Since the inception of its safety program in 1999, TDMN has experienced a sustained, formalized safety program within its culture that translates into tremendous results contributing directly to the bottom line. The company's key to success is a two-pronged approach focusing on leading and trailing indicators.

Research has shown that the most effective safety performance improvement programs include leading indicators of success, those known activities that prevent accidents and promote safety, and trailing indicators, such as accident rates. Rick Pollock, CSP and president of Comprehensive Loss Management Inc., explains that the key components that make up the process are meant to be flexible and designed to be uniquely conformed to individual organizational requirements. For greatest success and to achieve rapid and consistent change, he strongly recommends the implementation of all three interrelated components of the process.

The Energized Safety Process
--provides the proper knowledge and tools to carry out the desired action, including comprehensive training programs and communication plans that are deployed enterprise-wide.

Accountability--improves performance through a safety performance system that analyzes and assigns responsibilities, ensures that resources are provided for carrying out assigned tasks, tracks and reports completion, and enables feedback and recognition.

Recognition--motivates successful outcomes through recognition and reward programs that ensure employees are engaged in and working toward organizational safety goals.

The Dallas Morning News: A Case in Point
In 1999, TDMN was experiencing a common business issue: Worker's compensation claims were substantial, and the payouts were affecting bottom-line profit. In addition, worker's compensation insurance programs were threatening to increase.

To address this, TDMN officials examined their safety processes and found they could make improvements in both their leading indicators and their trailing indicators. TDMN had developed safety training for its managers, operations, and production groups. The company also had offered periodic, safety-specific programs that were operated with some short-term success. This was a good beginning, and it provided a foundation for a safe work environment. The next step was to develop a system that would offer consistency for both the message and the reward, while focusing on the entire workforce.

TDMN and BI, a Minneapolis-based company the addresses performance improvement, led focus groups to determine the current situation and attitude about safety throughout the organization. The result was the introduction of an integrated safety initiative, "Press for the Best." Now in its fourth year, the "Press for the Best" program continues to build momentum with results that improve each year.

The program includes a comprehensive communications campaign for all 700 employees. Each year, there is a re-launch of the program, including banners and communication materials that are visible in the workplace to reinforce the message of safety as a part of the company culture. "Press for the Best" is a key phrase at TDMN, and the messages evolve around how each employee can make a difference. The integration of safety as a part of the culture is evident as one walks through the production facility.

The behavioral training that TDMN developed reinforces the key messages and raises awareness of the importance of a safe work environment. With the "Press for the Best" initiative, the training serves as a leading indicator to ensure precautions are taken to prevent accidents, and it stresses that if there is an accident, reporting it may help solve a problem that can then be corrected to avoid further safety incidents.

The incentive portion of the program is both individual and team-based. Individually, employees can earn quarterly awards for perfect safety records and a bonus award for achieving a perfect safety record for four consecutive quarters. There is also an award given to teams who achieve perfect safety records for a six-month period.

Managers also are included in the award distribution. One of the powerful aspects of this safety program is that rewards are achieved at every level of the organization. Studies have shown that getting supervisor compliance and support of management goals is the fastest way to see overall improvement in performance. A landmark study of Managerial Attitudes and Performance by Drs. Irwin and Dorsey determined that "A supervisor's [effort] depends a great deal upon their expectation of reward for that effort. The probability of receiving the reward must be high and the reward must be of personal value."

Traditional safety systems put the focus on the individual worker and on trailing indicators such as accidents in judging overall program performance. Putting the focus on management and recognition for successful completion of individual tasks changes the paradigm to promote supervisory involvement and immediate behavioral reinforcement.

Awards are in the form of AwardperQs®, BI's patented non-monetary reward system. Participants can use their earnings for a variety of merchandise, including electronics, sporting equipment, tools, and housewares. They also can participate on Q-Bid®, BI's Internet auction site with specialty items from antiques to one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia.

At the initial launch, managers were given discretionary AwardperQs to reinforce positive safety practices. To continue the momentum and focus around safety, sweepstakes are conducted periodically to reward employees for wearing the correct personal protective equipment and improving their safety record.

All participants receive a quarterly statement showing their progress and their earnings.

Results that Tell the Whole Story
Since the launch of the program, TDMN has seen dramatic results each year. Whereas worker's compensation claims were paid out at a very high level prior to 1999, the claims have dropped substantially every year. From 2001 and 2002, the company reduced its worker's compensation claims by 40 percent and its claim dollars by 70 percent.

With the success of the program, TDMN has gained control of worker's compensation claims and insurance premiums. Barry Peckham, TDMN's executive vice president, has been pleased with results to date and says, "BI's designed waste reduction and safety program has contributed to substantial savings in newsprint waste and worker's compensation. We've realized six-figure savings in these areas over the past three years."

TDMN is a subsidiary of Belo Corp., which owns multiple newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and magazines. The program has been so successful that the company is looking at expanding it to its other newspapers.

Rethinking Safety Incentives
In order for a program to result in a permanent shift in the safety culture of an organization, it must be able to set measurable expectations for employees at all levels, help people meet those expectations with the correct education and tools, and provide motivation for continued engagement in the process.

For TDMN, its ongoing safety program has included each of these key areas with resounding success. Peckham calls the "Press for the Best" safety program a key initiative at TDMN and reinforces the fact that "it has had a big impact on safety and accidents companywide."

This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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