Is Your Safety Plan Comprehensive? What You May Be Missing

Safety should be any business's top priority. The aim of any workplace safety program should be no injuries. It makes good business sense, and it keeps your people from being harmed. What's more important?

Still, injuries and fatalities continue to plague businesses, to the tune of $170 billion a year, according to OSHA. The safety agency notes that these are "expenditures that come straight out of company profits" and that this can be the difference between success or failure.

The other side of these numbers is human suffering and even death. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace fatalities have been steadily on the rise since 2008, up 13 percent through 2016.

These are heavy statics. But the truth is that most businesses suffer the costs of injuries even with a proper safety plan and good compliance. So what's missing? Maybe your plan doesn't consider all of the factors that go in to establishing total safety.

The True Cost of Injuries
Before diving into the elements to include in your safety plan, let's first turn to why your goal should be zero injuries. Injuries represent costs: direct and indirect, human and financial. To start, injuries hurt! They may also cause permanent damage.

Injuries are expensive. Even the smallest injuries, ones that many employers and employees assume will take place, are more detrimental than might be obvious at first glance.

Consider that one laceration costs a business on average $41,000. That could be traded for a lot of worker hours put into crafting an outstanding safety program. It could pay, for instance, for a lot of incentives or improvements.

All accidents disrupt work flow, reduce productivity, and decrease morale. They can lead to paid time off, workers' compensation, and ongoing physical therapy. If an employee is sidelined for days or weeks, add on the cost of training a temp worker or new employee and the inefficiency that accompanies such a change. On top of that, there may be damaged or ruined equipment.

The bottom line is that accidents should be eliminated because they are nothing but bad.

Start With the Basics
Any safety plan should start with the basics: OSHA regulations. Build from there. In other words, meet regulations as your starting point and go beyond them. Get specific. What are the hazards in your particular environment? Identify the problems and find the solutions.

It's natural and common to create a safety protocol in reaction to an accident. This is good, but it's better to find potential problems and remove or mitigate them before the accident happens. This requires walking the floor often and paying close attention to how workers complete tasks.

It's also important to keep your safety plan nimble, as new hazards will crop up. An easy example is changing weather: Protocols for dealing with ice and snow will apply in the winter, while protocols addressing overheating will apply in the summer.

Make Safety Priority One From the Start and Repeat Often
Each new hire needs to understand from the very beginning that safety is the company's top priority and that there is a no-tolerance policy regarding non-compliance. This should be backed up with a comprehensive safety training program that each employee must complete before beginning work.

Thereafter, follow up with regular safety meetings and messaging, and keep it varied. People learn in different ways, so spread your safety reminders in different ways. Use videos, posters, texts or emails, loudspeaker announcements, hands-on training, and role play. Add humor to capture you staff's attention.

The goal is to keep safety at the forefront of everyone's thoughts.

Get Employees Involved
To develop and implement the best safety plan possible, you must involve your workforce. Bonus: They'll make your job easier! You can't be everywhere all the time; let them be your proxy. They're the ones who are experts about the workplace environment and the equipment. This puts them in the best position to identify trouble before it happens.

Assign safety ambassadors or teams. In addition to helping create safety protocols, empower them with the ability to make sure those procedures are enforced. Encourage them to lend a helping hand to others, when appropriate, and to correct any situation where they see a co-worker being unsafe.

By and large, people don't like to be dictated to. Giving employees a voice in the safety plan will make it much more likely that they'll fully participate in a healthy safety culture. This also means allowing them to have a choice in, say, PPE. If there is a dispute about certain elements of your plan, let workers know the reason it's being implemented—that it's not just a "because I say so" situation.

Address Mental and Emotional Health
An important key to staying safe is mental and emotional health—this is an aspect that is often overlooked. However, workers under emotional stress are less productive. They are also more likely to be distracted, tired, and stressed. And stress is one of the most common causes behind accidents.

Emotionally and mentally taxed employees may also be more prone to inappropriate behaviors such as drug or alcohol use in the workplace, or lashing out at other employees verbally or physically. Employee-on-employee violence is another top cause of injuries.

Be sure to include education about the importance of emotional well-being in your safety talks and training. Dispel any possible discomfort workers may have about this topic by treating it as a normal aspect of your safety program.

Provide resources about where to seek counseling for different types of problems. Offer to fully or partially pay for treatments as a way of encouraging such proactive behavior. Put that saved $41,000 to work for you and your team.

If employees are having issues in the workplace, be they problems with co-workers or management or just a need for help, let them know whom they can go to in the company. Make it clear that expressing their vulnerability in this way is not only OK, but encouraged. When people know they can ask for help, they work better as a team. And safety is always a team effort.

Address Physical Health
Physically healthy employees are safer employees. Physically unwell people are more likely to lack mental clarity and to be fatigued. And fatigue is yet another primary cause of workplace injuries.

Unhealthy people are also more likely to get sick, which results in days off, potentially infecting the rest of your staff, or both.

Exercise is a critical aspect of health. Consider paying for gym memberships or offering on-site workout classes. Encourage breaks and suggest that employees get up and move and stretch regularly. This will also help reduce another primary cause of workplace injuries: repetitive movement strain.

As regards nutrition, while you can't control everything your workforce eats, you can control what you offer on site and at work meetings and events. Replace soda with healthier options in vending machines. Stock the cafeteria with nutrient-rich options; eliminate processed foods. Ditch the office donuts for fruit and yogurt.

As with all other aspects of your safety program, include education about exercise and nutrition in your safety training, too.

Safe Workers Are Better Workers
Workers who feel safe and cared for are more productive, do higher-quality work, miss less work, return to work more quickly after an illness or injury, and are more satisfied—which means they stick around longer.

While accidents are all bad, staying safe is all good.

TJ Scimone founded Slice, Inc. in 2008, in search of creating the safest cutting tools possible. The result is a unique line of tools including box cutters, utility knives, and craft cutters. All of Slice's tools are ergonomic and feature finger-friendly® blades.

Posted on Feb 28, 2018