While industrial companies have made dramatic operational improvements over the last decade, important work in the area of safety still must be done as large numbers of workers continue to sustain injuries on the job. An estimated 2.9 million U.S.-based employees suffered nonfatal injuries or contracted illnesses while on the clock in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Companies can both boost their operational output and facilitate growth without sacrificing workplace safety. Here are four strategies that teams are using today:
Obtain executive support
Business leaders are responsible for setting organizational priorities, leveraging their influence to demonstrate the importance of specific goals or values. Most focus on things linked directly to revenue. But the best encourage leaders to advocate workplace safety objectives from the top down by demonstrating additional benefits.
For one, safe workplaces with strong EHS protocols are not subject to the exorbitant fines that accompany Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations. These financial penalties, which range from $12,934 to $126,334 per violation, directly affect cash flow. Additionally, shop floor injuries bring production to a halt and degrade workforce morale, two outcomes that hurt operational effectiveness. Executives who understand this are more than happy to promote safety as a tool for internal improvement. Of course, this begs an important question: Does executive support for EHS programming lead to safer and more productive work environments? One study from researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Regina showed that this is indeed the outcome, Industrial Safety and Hygiene News reported.
“We found that CEOs have the most direct safety-related influence on their top managers,” Associate Professor Sean Tucker, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors, told the publication. “These top managers then role model pro-safety values and behaviors to lower-level managers and supervisors, and this in turn cascades down to the frontlines.”
Businesses should promote cultures of safety – internal environments in which workers perform their duties with workplace EHS best practices in mind and, more than that, look for operational weaknesses that could result in injury. Many safety leaders never see such cultures come to fruition. Why? A significant number disassociate safety and productivity, leading them to develop and deploy EHS protocols that workers abandon when volume increases, according to Harvard Business Review. Interestingly, these moments of abandonment lead to long-term declines in product quality and plant efficiency.
Employees must have a reason to embrace more measured processes designed to facilitate workplace safety. Incentives such as bonuses or extra vacation days can help in this regard. With more pay or time off on the line, workers will be more than happy to work within the confines of workplace safety best practices and ensure colleagues are doing the same. That said, EHS teams should avoid embracing incentive programs with nebulous goals, EHS Today reported. It is critical for safety experts to establish actionable performance metrics for workplace safety initiatives and help workers understand how they can best help meet them.
Work with regulators
Last year, OSHA inspectors conducted more than 32,000 onsite reviews, over 18,000 of which were the result of worker complaints. Citation volumes surpassed 25,000 over this span. These figures substantiate the fear that many in the EHS community have of regulatory personnel. However, many innovators in the space are choosing to embrace OSHA and its regulators in an effort to improve production and safety, HBR reported.
Indeed, some operational leaders have found that interactions with OSHA can be quite valuable for inspectors from the group can dole out best practices and help EHS leaders implement safer processes that are not only compliant but sound from a production perspective. After all, these officials oversee more than 8 million worksites across the country, meaning they come into each inspection with valuable insight businesses can tap.
Implement bleeding-edge technology
Data drives the modern economy. Organizations across the world leverage advanced hardware and software to collect and analyze insights that lead to real-world improvement. Many EHS teams also use these tools, leveraging specialized programs to track incidents and flag hazards that not only put workers in harm’s way but inhibit operational effectiveness. Last year, firms spent more than $1.1 billion on these systems, according to Verdantix. By 2022, that figure is expected to increase to $1.7 billion. It is easy understand the spend here. In an era where shop floor activities are continually overseen via computer, EHS teams need the power to collect similar data on their programs so as to tailor their work to support optimal production.