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Hitting a thumb with a hammer or dropping a two-by-four on a toe are common workplace injuries. These represent the roughly 3 million nonfatal incidents enterprises reported in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But chalking up more severe incidents as accidents and not doing anything about them creates a much more dangerous threat—lack of a safety culture.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently released a study detailing results from the first year of its severe injury reporting program, and the outcome looks bleak. OSHA believed that although roughly 10,000 severe injuries were reported, nearly 50 percent of these types of accidents went unreported in an era where the spotlight is on improving employee safety by preventing predictable injuries.
A Successful workplace safety culture, in effect, should be one that promotes transparency and commitment amongst all employees towards the effort of prioritizing safety above all metrics of company success.
Workplace safety has come a long way since the industrial era, and even more so with the inclusion of Safety Management Software in various industries. But to effectively stop injuries in their tracks, prevention should be at the top of every safety manager’s mind.
You can’t keep employees safe without getting them on board. It’s a difficult task for a safety manager revising the perception of a workplace riddled with oversight and rampant violations. Injury prevention isn’t possible if the people experiencing problems don’t want to make a change.
What exactly is a safety culture though? A study from the Safety and Health At Work journal identified five pillars:
Implementing this culture carries financial value as well. The Vermont Department of Labor reported that for every $1 invested in a program like this, a company can expect to yield $3 to $10 through direct and indirect savings for expenses like workers compensation, legal fees and hiring.
Key takeaway: A strong culture of safety is the foundation to preventing injuries.
When building this program, employee input should be highly encouraged, Chief Executive magazine reported. This facilitates a relationship where it’s OK to point out flaws in protocol, such as the absence of machine guards or methods that expose workers to danger.
“Transparency is necessary in a preventative safety culture.”
Make internal injury reports public; most of the external data on severe injuries already is. This allows the safety manager to work with employees to understand which practices carry the most risk, where most employees are injured and how company safety lines up with the national standard.
There are a number of incidents that can be easily prevented, but if no one sifts through the data to see their trending significance, they’re easily forgotten. Liberty Mutual’s Workplace Safety Index is an excellent barometer of the most pressing injuries facing the workforce at large. For example, overexertion accounted for roughly 24 percent of the most disabling workplace injuries in 2013, and these types of injuries often come from outdated techniques or use of manual equipment.
Key takeaway: There must be a simple process in place to report and view reports so employees can learn through means other than trial by fire.
In a preventative safety culture, an entry-level employee needs to feel safe walking up to the CEO and handing him or her a hard hat to wear on the worksite. This heightened level of accountability is key in stopping injuries before they occur. Chief Executive magazine reported there are three different types:
From a safety manager’s perspective, organizational accountability should be the first task accomplished. This refers to internal training procedures, seminars on new occupational methods and an overall understanding from top to bottom that safety comes first. At the individual level, employees should understand safety methods and procedures pertaining to their work. This starts with the hiring and onboarding process, where workers should learn and be tested on everything they need to know to prevent accidents. Peer-to-peer accountability is self-evident and it can be extremely effective for work in remote locations.
Key takeaway: Empower employees with the ability to rectify any potentially dangerous situation.
4. Practice makes perfect
Historical revisionism is a powerful tool when it comes to safety. Hindsight is always 20/20 and often leaves organizations in disbelief a risk wasn’t identified beforehand. Determining the contributing factors of incidents and accidents can help safety managers identify pertinent areas for improvement, such as training or equipment upgrade.
Consider this: An employee falls off a scaffold and suffers a severe injury because of it. One of the first reactions is to check the equipment. A missing bolt is identified as the main culprit behind an uneven platform, causing a worker to lose balance. Another scaffold is ordered and the problem is solved.
Upon further review, however, the safety manager finds the flaw wasn’t in the equipment itself, but rather how it was set up. In this case, simply ordering a new platform won’t solve anything—employees must be educated on the proper procedures for setting up this apparatus on site. This idea that there’s a root cause of each injury is what makes a good preventative safety culture an excellent one.
Key takeaway: By investigating past incidents, safety managers can identify potential future risks and remedy these issues through directed employee training.
Preventative safety starts with a heightened awareness of the potential dangers and a collective effort to avoid running into them and in the end can save an organization millions of dollars.
Has your company implemented a preventative safety culture? Leave a comment below and let us know which step you think is most effective in stopping accidents before they happen.