Although the cost of doing business continues to rise, one area where we can improve or control costs is worker health and safety. According to the National Safety Council, the annual cost of worker injuries and illnesses per incident is about $39,000. With recordable incident rates reported by the Bureau of Labor for 2006 indicating losses between 4.5 and 5.9 cases per 100 employees, these costs can be devastating to overcome.
The costs are reported here only as a real and tangible fact when our employees are injured or become sick on the job. The human factor of an injury can be devastating to each individual, company or employee group. Worker health and safety continues to be a focus that has helped reduce losses and costs for many companies and workers. The effort, however, is continuous and must remain a core value in conducting business.
Where to begin?
Compliance begins with a commitment and a health and safety program that is tailored to fit the company, blend with its unique operations and culture, and help employers maintain a system that continually addresses workplace injuries and illnesses. Every effective program should include management commitment and leadership, employee involvement, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training, and performance goals and measurement.
The responsibility for worker health and safety is a team effort. It begins with a strong management commitment and is integrated into all areas of operation. Plant managers and other supervisors need to have an understanding and a working knowledge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations and have the skills to fully implement a program.
When OSHA inspectors come in to evaluate a company, one of the first things they look for is a written health and safety program, along with training documentation and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), if applicable. But I never tell a client we’re creating a health and safety program just to be OSHA compliant; we’re creating the program because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also a good return on investment, because preventing employee injuries saves the company money. For small or newer companies, avoiding downtime can make the difference in whether the company survives.
The larger the firm, the easier it is to designate a health and safety officer and to develop a safety committee. The smaller the company and the fewer the employees, the easier it is for health and safety measures to be overlooked or missed.
Responsibility for employee safety always rests at the top with the owner or the manager, but it is typically the plant manager or the first-line supervisor who is most capable of keeping workers safe. They have direct, day-to-day contact with the workers, and they need to be aware of what resources and tools need to be made available. The safest companies, however, are those where employers and employees work together to make safety and health a priority and a responsibility that is equal with production and quality.
This partnership can be achieved by involving employees in health and safety policymaking and committees and by posting the company’s written safety and health policy for all to see. Workers engaged in plant maintenance activities often are the best sources for recognizing hazards and supporting injury prevention. Management shows its commitment by investing time, effort and money in the company’s safety and health program, incorporating all employees in the critical role of prevention activities and holding regular meetings that focus on employee health and safety.
Analyzing the problem
An important tool in a company’s safety and health program includes an initial and ongoing workplace safety audit or analysis. To conduct a worksite analysis, plant managers and their employees must analyze all worksite conditions to identify and eliminate existing or potential hazards. The analysis must include observations of work practices and processes and feedback from employees. This should be done on a regular, timely basis and there should be an up-to-date hazard analysis for all jobs and processes that all employees know and understand. There are a number of Web sites that have checklists that can help develop an internal health and safety audit tool. One source is the OSHA Web site, where resources can be downloaded and modified for specific operations.
It’s important to involve employees in the hazard-analysis process and to include their knowledge of the job and its tasks. This will help minimize oversights, ensure a quality analysis and get workers to "buy in" to the solutions, because they will share ownership in the health and safety program.
Plant managers should review their worksite’s history, including accidents and occupational illnesses that needed treatment, losses that required repair or replacement, and any near-misses in which an accident did not occur but could have. These are indicators that the existing hazard controls might not be adequate and can provide critical historical information to identify necessary operational improvements.
Plant managers should discuss with their employees the hazards they know exist in their current work surroundings. They should collectively brainstorm ideas on how to eliminate or control those hazards. Don’t wait until a job hazard analysis is complete or an incident occurs to fix any problems that can be easily corrected.
An ounce of prevention
To maintain a good safety and health program, work environment and work practices should be continually reviewed to control or prevent workplace hazards. Begin by regularly and thoroughly maintaining all equipment. Ensure that hazard correction procedures are in place and that all trained employees understand and follow safe work procedures. There are many good resources and programs that include tools for recognition and control of workplace incidents that lead to injuries or illnesses. Many include time to observe workplace behaviors and education to prevent hazardous conditions.