Workplace Eye Safety: From Vulnerability to Resilience

You'd be hard pressed to find a company today that doesn't think it has a handle on promoting and protecting eye safety. However, the current statistics indicate that this is an area where too few organizations actually see 20/20. Some 2,000 U.S. workers suffer eye injuries that require medical treatment on a daily basis, for example, with an annualized cost to companies to the tune of $300 million in medical bills, compensation and time off. Within the manufacturing, transportation and warehousing sectors, moreover, there are over 7,000 on-the-job eye injuries annually.

Clearly, there's a lot of room for improvement. In recognition of Workplace Eye Wellness month this March, here's how companies can assess the maturity of their safety models—and move from a position of reactive vulnerability to proactive and predictive resilience.

Five Stages of Safety Maturity
Organizations that continually grow in their ability to identify and control specific hazards are far more effective at moving the needle when it come to injury prevention generally and eye-injury prevention specifically. So how and where should you get started?

When it comes to assessing the maturity of your workforce safety model, it can be useful to think in terms of five distinct stages. Use the following diagnostic criteria to identify where your organization is today.

Vulnerable: These organizations are characterized by a dangerous "no care culture." When accidents occur, these organizations naively accept them as simply part of the cost of doing business. There's little or no training around safety—with the result that accidents and incidents can sometimes be downplayed or not reported at all. Worse, near-misses are seldom recognized as opportunities for prevention and improvement, nor are they considered gaps in planning or in the system that created them. Apathy and resistance to change are characteristic of leadership and workers alike, leaving workers vulnerable to similar mishaps going forward. Apathy or resistance to change are endemic at these organizations among leadership and workers alike.

Reactive: These organizations foster a "culture of blame"—and all told, they aren't doing much better than "Vulnerable" organizations. These companies similarly lack accurate recordkeeping data around incidents, most of their efforts focused on recovery efforts to restore business as usual. By restricting communication around safety and training to a need-to-know basis, these organizations tend to frame employee error as a de facto catch-all cause for safety incidents.

Compliant: "Compliant" organizations have begun to accurately track incident data and are learning to better understand why incidents occur. And that starts with early efforts to set goals and assign responsibility for key safety metrics. By increasing involvement in safety planning and communication across other business units, what's more, these organizations are also able to improve overall safety efforts — and leveraging these improvements can be an important catalyst for continual improvement across other business units.

Proactive: By moving toward a "culture of ownership," these organizations have begun to successfully clarify roles and responsibilities around safety. They also have specific preventive measures as well as post-incident measures in place. From leadership down to front-line personnel, detailed safety communications are a basic component of day-to-day work. And because continual risk and hazard assessments inform leadership’s outlook, we also find robust training, communication and awareness processes in place at these organizations, too. 

Transformational: "Safety is the way we work" is the mantra at these organizations. In other words, safety concerns have become an instinctive part of how these organizations recognize and manage risks on an end-to-end, enterprise-wide basis. Solid safety management systems are in place. Plus, front-line ownership and senior leadership are aligned on safety expectations — with mutual respect and dependency between them for driving excellence in safety performance. Leaders at these organizations view safety as an opportunity for continued learning and improvement, and view their employees as part of the solution to potential future safety challenges.

Evolving the Maturity of Your Safety Culture
The journey from a "Vulnerable" to "Transformational" safety culture isn't going to happen overnight, but you need to get started right away if you want to see improvements around eye safety in the workplace—today and in the future. Here are three essential focus areas to help you out.

  • Safety planning: Safety planning means assessing hazards, of course, but it goes further than that, too. That means identifying practices and work methods that create risks, with the goal of eliminating these risks or at least reducing them to acceptable levels. So you'll need to comprehensively review policies and procedures. From there, you can create a roadmap for managing and measuring change — that should help ensure greater buy-in and awareness from stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Emerging risks: To transition from a reactive to a predictive approach, you need to carefully evaluate emerging risks—and consider how your goal setting for prevention is connected to managing those risks. Plus, you should think through how risk potential relates to frequent and minor risks, as well as infrequent and severe risks, too. At the end of the day, eye injuries are often best controlled through a combination of approaches—better work practices together with improved personal protective equipment (PPE), for instance. Beyond that, accountability and other workplace safety best practices must be promoted by leadership and tracked with metrics.
  • Feedback and engagement: Far too often there are gaps between safety planning at the leadership level and what actually winds up happening at the employee level. That's why ongoing engagement and feedback from actual employees is so important. Town hall meetings, surveys, and leadership interaction at the floor level are all smart ways to promote that kind of engagement. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that robust safety planning doesn't just exist in the abstract, but connects the workforce at both ends of the spectrum—leaders and workers—around shared safety goals.

Looking to evolve your safety maturity? Start with these three areas and you should begin to see measurable improvements in eye safety in no time.

Strengthen Your Safety Vision Over Time
Workplace Eye Wellness month in March brings with it heightened awareness of the risks related to eye safety at work, but in reality, this needs to be a commitment all year-round. By using the framework we've outlined in this article, you should have a clear sense of where your organization stands today—and what the next steps are to improve.

Corey Berghoefer, Senior Vice President of Risk Management & Insurance with staffing firm Randstad US, is a risk management expert with more than a decade’s worth of experience in safety and risk management, underwriting and loss control, claims management, and risk financing, accounting’ and insurance. He manages a department of 47 risk professionals with the goal of implementing proven risk management strategies into Randstad's overall business platform. Under his direction, Randstad has become acclaimed for its enterprise-wide risk management strategies, workers' compensation practices, and comprehensive focus on talent safety. He holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Georgia.

Posted on Feb 21, 2019