Three steps to making a safer workplace

Nelson Aldrich

Mitigating the frequency and severity of workplace injuries is tough. Let’s face it, you could invest every spare dollar you have back into your safety program, but at the end of the day accidents still happen.

Developing a comprehensive workplace safety program might sound like rocket science, but I assure you, following these three rules will put any organization off to a good start.

Get employees to buy in

Convincing your workforce to embrace a culture of safety is all about motivating and modeling. Motivating employees to take their own safety seriously is best done by incentivizing good behavior.

Most workplace safety experts cite the 80/20 rule, in which 80 percent of occupational injuries are linked to unsafe behavior while only 20 percent are related to unsafe working conditions.

Steps can be taken to engineer away unsafe conditions, but employers are advised to focus the bulk of their efforts on addressing the root cause of the larger issue. We know from various behavior modification studies that the most effective way to change behavior is a public reward as soon as a positive action is observed.

With this in mind, employers might consider making a habit of handing out small gift cards when use of personal protective equipment is observed, or when two employees practice team lifting, for example.

Often, employers experience see fewer claims after implementing cash or prize-based safety incentives for longer injury-free periods of time. We do occasionally see injuries reduced when a big screen TV is up for raffle at the end of an injury-free year.

However, employers need to be aware that OSHA is beginning to crack down on any safety program that discourages the reporting of workplace injuries. For this reason, employers should stick with a positive reinforcement method linking praise and reward to workplace safety standards.

The timing element is critical because the more time that passes between the observation of the positive action and the receipt of the reward, the less effective the reward.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to write up an employee for exhibiting unsafe behavior. When OSHA inspections occur, documentation of actions taken to correct workplace safety violations will be considered.

Modeling workplace safety is critical for owners, supervisors or anyone in a position of authority. Leading by example is an excellent way to communicate to your team, “Hey, this is all about keeping each other safe.”

Conversely, if you preach safety on Monday but cut corners by Tuesday, your credibility is blown. After all, your team looks to you for more than just direction and control over their work product.

Modeling safety requires making the topic a centerpiece of discussion on a regular and ongoing basis. It’s most effective to use real life examples of injuries and near misses from within your own workplace and industry.

To get the dialogue going, ask your agent to meet with your staff to discuss current injury trends, what led to those situations and what the outcome was for the employees and the organizations involved.

Use agency tools

Agencies now set themselves apart on value added services. So, don’t be afraid to ask your agent what tools are available to make your workplace safer. Maybe your agency can provide an in-house OSHA consultant or a weekly handout of safety tailgate materials for you to share with your team.

Perhaps your agency provides access to nurse triage lines that record the first statement of injury and provide advice on medical treatment. Maybe your agency adds value beyond insurance by offering complimentary access to labor attorneys for stickier situations. Don’t be afraid to ask your agent which programs make sense for your company.

Choose your carrier wisely

Not all carriers are created equally. Just as some agencies offer variations on the value add equation, some carriers make a name for themselves by offering consulting services such as loss control inspections, industry specific safety trainings and a host of after-injury protocols.

When selecting a carrier, it’s critical to ask your agent what sets this company apart from the others. The insurance company’s biggest expense is payment of claims, so more carriers are investing premium dollars back into policyholder safety programs. That means a savvy insurance buyer must consider which carrier will offer the best combination of price and service.

What happens before a workplace injury is largely up to you. Once that injury occurs, the outcome of the workers’ comp claims depends in large part upon how the carrier handles the claim. Two identical injuries submitted to two different carriers could have vastly different outcomes in terms of length of time the claim stays open and how much is spent on medical, disability, and reserves.

Best in class carriers do three things very well in the workers’ comp marketplace: they take the time to understand their insured industries and unique operations; they don’t shy away from a fight over suspected fraud; and they do a better job than others of getting in front of the injured worker before the attorneys.

As you think of creative ways to deploy a new safety program or dust off an old one, be sure to ask your insurance agent what other companies in your industry are doing to reduce workplace injuries and bolster their culture of safety. Have fun with the process by making it something you and your employees can take ownership of.

It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Take some small steps and be patient, knowing a little bit goes a long way.

Nelson Aldrich is an insurance broker with WISG Insurance, headquartered in Turlock. He can be reached at [email protected]



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