When it Comes to Safety, Size Shouldn't Matter
Technology has made parity achievable. Small and large companies can take comfort in knowing that, when it comes to worker safety, company size need not matter.
- By Brian Galonek
- Oct 01, 2018
Distractions are the same for all workers, whether they are part of an organization with 50 employees or 50,000. And so it would only seem right to assume that the business world has provided all entities, no matter their size, with the solutions they need to keep workers safe on the job. The truth, however, is that larger companies have always enjoyed many advantages over their smaller brethren. The kind of advantages that come naturally as a result of simply being bigger, such as:
- Financial backing
- Rapid scalability
- Brand recognition
- Political influence
- Health care costs
- Talent acquisition
In many ways, the fight isn't even fair and as a result, oftentimes the fight is short-lived and decisively won by the larger entity. Sure, occasionally some smaller player will come along and innovate in a way that allows it to compete and eventually become one of the larger players (think Amazon in 1998 vs. today), but those eye-catching exceptions are exactly that, exceptions. For every small company that makes it big, there are hundreds (thousands, probably) that do not. There are numerous potential causes for the financial failure of smaller companies, but one of the most prevalent in safety-sensitive companies is an inability to control their safety-related costs. Whether it be a single catastrophe (one major preventable accident) or an overabundance of smaller incidents' "death by a thousand cuts," the smaller the company, the bigger the cost of safety-related failures.
Technology Levels the Playing Field
While the safety deck has been stacked against smaller companies for decades, technology and other innovations have begun to level the playing field in a growing number of ways. In at least this one incredibly critical area, the advantages historically enjoyed by large over small has all but been eliminated as technology is being used by companies of all sizes to better promote their safety goals and objectives. This is somewhat unique in that technology has not been able to help in certain other safety-related areas, to be sure. Health insurance, as an example, still costs smaller companies far more per employee, and there has been no technology innovation that has truly helped smaller companies insure their workers at a reasonable cost relative to larger companies. The same is true with other expense line items such as legal costs, regulatory compliance, and the like. However, when it comes to compelling workers to be safer on (and off) the job, there are some ways in which the tide has truly turned and technology is leading the way.
The typical safety program has long been comprised of some features that all companies could afford, such as training, mentoring, and providing personal protective equipment. The thing that most separated the haves from the have nots has been the budget and staff necessary to take those otherwise normal safety program features and imbed them into a safety culture and structure that is truly built for success. To create an attention-grabbing comprehensive safety program that could break through the distractions and clutter of everyday life and successfully promote safety to any size workforce. To do that successfully, safety programs need to add energy and connectivity, they need to be dynamic and to work 24/7/365, and they need to find their way past the confines of the workplace and into the car and the home of all workers. What is needed to achieve that goal is what I call "The Four Pillars of Safety," which are:
- Employee engagement
- Employee recognition
- Branding and communications
- Results measurement
The concept of having a safety program supported by "pillars" may sound expensive, and in decades gone by that was largely the case. Expensive in a way that a large company can shrug off with a few strokes of a pen during budget season, but where a smaller company cannot so easily find the resources. Deploying a custom-branded and well-communicated recognition program, with the primary goal of creating greater levels of employee engagement and an ultimate goal of improving safety, could not historically be accomplished at a reasonable price for a company with limited means. But times have changed.
The enduring benefit of technology is that it continually delivers greater and greater results at lower and lower costs. Moore's Law (which loosely translated states that technology doubles every two years) has a trickle-down effect throughout the whole of technological solutions, and that effect can now be felt all the way out to the horizon of employee safety programs and other HR-related solutions. In my own "small" company we expect, and we seek out, solutions that put us on par with larger institutions because nothing about our company feels small, and we don't ever want to be treated that way. And we certainly don't want to be disadvantaged relative to the billion-dollar companies we buy from and sell to. When we find those affordable solutions in our own world, we test them and then deploy them and enjoy the ways in which affordable technology has better enabled our operation to flourish.
My company, and other providers of technology-enabled safety recognition/rewards programs, are now using modulated custom-built platforms to greatly lower the costs of building and deploying the software-driven safety/wellness programs that allow for the attainment of all Four Pillars. Gone are the days where solution providers will first ask how large the budget is before committing to create a program for a company in need. Now, the small local or regional company that is operating in safety-sensitive industries such as trucking, construction, waste disposal, logging, fishing, etc. can get those equally effective tools at an affordable price. Today's solutions are typically delivered on software housed in the cloud so there is little to no up-front technology cost to get a program going and the ongoing costs are generally charged on a per user/per month (PUPM) basis, meaning that no matter the company size, you only pay for those workers who actually participate.
The functional and financial advantages of today's technology go beyond the safety-related software platform itself and extend into other key areas, as well, with the same net effect. It used to be that if you wanted to custom brand anything, you needed to hire a Madison Avenue agency to create the eye-catching and expensive brand you desired. But now there is more creative technology in a single MacBook than there used to be in an entire agency full of computers in the late 20th century. And that technology in the hands of an entity (an engagement solution provider) whose mission it is to create a memorable program, results in goal-supporting brands that can compete nose-to-nose with their more well-heeled competition.
Improve Branding, Increase ROI
The ability to properly brand and market your safety mantra is as important as any other element of the program itself. All people (you and your employees included) respond to brands and are loyal to the ones they believe in. Ask yourself, when was the last time you bought the generic potato chips in the black and white bag, or bought a car with a brand you knew nothing about, or watched a sporting event featuring teams you had no interest in? We all gravitate toward, and are motivated by, the brands we respect, and when it comes to your safety/wellness program, if it is not properly branded, it will be far less powerful and compelling.
One last area (in many ways the most obvious) in which technology has sped things up while lowering costs is communications. I have been around this business long enough to remember a time when all program communications were done on printed paper sent through the mail. Award catalogs, rules and regulations, order forms, point statements, and everything else was printed and mailed or handed to participants. It was slow and cost prohibitive for all but the largest companies. Now, we have a seemingly endless variety of ways to continually communicate the core values of our program along with actual performance data in real time. This is achieved by using the software and hardware that enable things like HTML emails, text messages, responsive-design websites, push notifications, smartphones, kiosks, mobile applications, social media sites, and so much more. These solutions are not overly expensive, but they are vital to promoting your safety brand to generate maximum success.
In today's world, a company of any size that is armed with its own custom-branded message of safety, one that it promotes through an engagement-driving recognition platform, is then poised and ready to see its valuable safety brand make its impact on the workforce. It is also in perfect position to measure the results and to make the necessary adjustments needed for continued success.
The average "return on incentive investment" (or ROI²) for a properly built safety recognition/rewards program is 4:1. That level of success is achievable for smaller companies only if the per-participant costs, "the investment," in building and running the program is not outsized relative to the per-participant cost paid by larger companies. With that parity now achievable, the small and the large can take comfort in knowing that, when it comes to worker safety, company size need not matter.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.