Go Beyond OSHA Compliance

Moving to the next step of compliance and insurance-based safety management can be daunting, but more importantly, it can be profitable.

Halfway through my bachelor’s degree in Environmental, Health, and Safety Management, I made the switch from Operations supervisor to Environmental, Health, and Safety Specialist. Through the course of the next two years, my view of the safety field as one that merely identifies hazards using OSHA and other tools made a 180-degree turn when I realized how versatile you have to be in order to be successful in safety.

I thought I knew it all. At the time, OSHA was 35 years old— and after that amount of time must have come close to fulfilling its congressional declaration “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources” (OSHA, 2008). Through trial and error, I found some tools that helped me justify and implement programs beyond OSHA’s bare minimum compliance that I felt would serve as a learning tool for those just starting out in the field.

Since its inception, OSHA’s rulemaking process has been stifled by economic downturns and politics. Safety professionals have long relied on OSHA to be the largest driver for justifying the allocation of resources to control and eliminate hazards at our workplaces. Any safety professional working in an industrial setting must be able to balance safety, productivity, and quality, as well, in order to be successful in that organization. And we must be able to justify not only our position with the company, but also our personal belief that the safety of the employees cannot be managed reactively.

OSHA’s dependence on favorable economic conditions became apparent in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan made regulatory relief the main focus of his economic program. OSHA was at the forefront of that deregulation. In recent times, the repeal of the ergonomics rule proposed four days before President Clinton left office (and revoked by President George W. Bush within 90 days of taking office) showed the profound affect of political affiliation on standards (Greenhouse, 2001).

Safety’s True Savings
Excess worker’s compensation premiums are avoidable and therefore are considered waste, but more importantly, they are an excellent way to justify effective health and safety programs to your employer. According to the National Safety Council, the cost of a single disabling injury is $34,000 (NSC, 2006). This represents both direct and indirect cost to the employer and is typically absorbed through insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Worker’s comp cost was a strong driver of health and safety in the workplace, starting in Wisconsin in 1911, with the rest of the United States following by 1948 (Ferguson, 2004).

If your employer has accepted insurance and OSHA fines as a cost of doing business, you have to point to the bottom line. Start by reviewing the cost of your injuries for previous years; this is usually the first eye-opener for many of the true savings of safety. Look for trends and low-hanging fruit that can be eliminated with little effort, because this will give you instant credibility and momentum. For example, if you have a series of hand lacerations, a new knife or cutting glove may eliminate the hazard.

After you have had a few successes, start selling safety metrics as part of the company’s key management goals. Fewer injuries and illnesses are nice, but they are only lagging indicators of safety performance. Use sound safety programs such as safety hazard inspections and track their completion quarterly for every area in your facility. Track timely completion of safety training and make this part of the performance appraisal process. Encourage employees to run the safety meetings and recognize and reward them for doing so. Develop causal categories, track near-misses that are submitted to completion, and ensure communication takes place between the initiator and the responsible parties. Use these as key indicators of how you proactively mitigate injuries at your workplace.

Ideally these are part of everyone’s responsibilities, and individuals’ participation is rewarded in the performance review. This also promotes employee involvement, which is essential for safety management success (Haight, 2008). You also should use these data in conjunction with your injury and illness trending to determine the effectiveness of your programs. Every year, you should re-evaluate these goals to ensure they are both realistic and supportive of your overall vision of zero injuries or a reduction of injuries, by comparing your injury causes with how effectively your safety metrics address the causes of the incidents. You also should get budget commitments from management during this review.

A survey completed by Liberty Mutual showed executives say $3 or more is saved for each $1 invested in workplace safety (Liberty Mutual, 2002). Develop a plan for how your budget will be spent in order to support both your vision and goals . When we review our budget, we take our open action items that were on hold for capital. We also allocate capital for additional training that we can purchase or outsource to address our most frequent injuries.

Compliance with OSHA regulations is just the first step in managing safety. Starting with small victories will help you gain management support for safety activities. Take that momentum and create top-down metrics and goals for the whole corporation, making them intrinsic to your company’s long-term mission.

1. OSHA, (2008). OSHA Act of 1970. Retrieved Oct. 18, 2008, from www.osha .gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=3356&p_table=OSHACT.

2. Greenhouse, Steven, (March 8, 2001). House Joins Senate in Repealing Rules Issued by Clinton on Work Injuries. New York Times, Retrieved Oct. 22, 2008, from www.nytimes.com/2001/03/08/politics/08WORK.html?ex=1224907200&e=0 e327d14797b57d1&ei=5070.

3. NSC, (2006). The Cost of Injuries: How Much Do You Really Pay. Estimating the Costs of Unintentional Injuries, Retrieved Oct. 18, 2008, from www.nsc.org/ resources/issues/estcost. Aspx.

4. Ferguson, Julie (Aug. 11, 2004). The history of workers compensation. Workers’ Comp Insider, Retrieved Oct. 18, 2008, from www. Workerscompinsider.com/ archives/000137.html.

5. Haight, Joel (Ed.). (2008). The Safety Professionals Handbook. Des Plains, Illinois: ASSE.

6. Liberty Mutual. (2002). 2002 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index (1st ed.) [Brochure]. Boston, MA.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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