No one should get hurt, get sick, or die at work. You know that. Your workers know that. But it isn’t enough to simply be aware. To prevent avoidable injuries, illnesses, and deaths, you need a workplace safety program.
Unless you’ve just launched your business — like, you’re launching it today— you should already have such a program in place. Maybe at your organization, it’s called a health and safety program, or an environment, health, and safety program (or EHS program for short), or an occupational health and safety program, or any other combination of words like “safety,” “work,” and “health” followed by the word “program.” For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to it simply as a safety program.
A safety program is more than a collection of paperwork and policies kept in a binder. It’s a playbook for how, when, where, and why your people work. It’s a set of essential rules and guidelines for staying safe and protecting others on the job. It should be embedded in every one of your business processes. Every member of your workforce should know it inside and out and adhere to it at all times.
That’s all easier said than done, of course. It takes money and time to develop a safety program, implement it, train your employees on it, and ensure people are following along with it.
However, this is one investment you must make if you want to stay in business.
Your employees, your customers, your investors, and government agencies such as the federal and state Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) expect you to have a robust safety program in place. If that safety program doesn’t exist or isn’t effective—if it doesn’t actually prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths—you’ll be in profound financial and legal trouble. Companies with lackluster safety programs experience high employee turnover, penalties, fines, lawsuits, negative publicity, customer boycotts, and other expensive repercussions.
But let’s drop the business rationale for a moment and talk as people—human being to human being. Even if you did have enough money to handle the many consequences following an employee health or safety incident, could you honestly sleep at night knowing you allowed what happened to happen?
The only acceptable number of workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths is zero. To get there, you’ll need to do the following:
Think Systematically About Your Safety Program
An effective workplace safety program accounts for every person, process, and piece of technology at your organization. It involves rigorous initial planning, smart implementation, and ongoing program management and improvement—all tied together with software and EHS best practices.
Step 1: Establish Your Safety Program
Start by creating a safety committee. This is the team at the heart of any good safety program. The safety committee creates policies, ensures enforcement, and analyzes ongoing processes. It should include representation from every department of business, with members who can capably share their perspectives and communicate committee findings to their individual teams. Most importantly, the safety committee needs to have the power to create and enforce company-wide safety policies—which is why buy-in from executive leadership is essential. Learn how to make the business case for investment in workplace safety.
Next, choose the right EHS software solution.
We’ve written a comprehensive guide on this topic—read it here.
Once you’ve chosen your solution, you need to inspect your facilities. Use the software to guide the safety committee and document safety concerns with photos. An effective EHS software solution will have a database of commonly-found environmental and industry-specific safety issues and will provide best practices as well as regulatory references on common issues. Remember to delegate some inspections to facility employees—getting them involved in performing routine inspections and providing feedback on the facility is a great way to ensure employee buy-in. If you hire a third party to audit your facilities, make sure they use the same software platform or can input their findings into your system, so nothing gets lost or slips through the cracks. Whoever is managing inspection, accountability for remediation is key. The software should be able to assign tasks and due dates, and document follow up.
Be sure to carefully observe employee behavior throughout this stage. Are employees using personal protective equipment, following proper procedures, and leveraging their job hazard analysis techniques? These are key steps for avoiding accidents, so make sure your software system can document the ad-hoc issues identified from employee behavior observations. Not all inspections should be regulatory-focused.
Prioritize remediation. It’s essential to establish severity rankings for issues to be remediated. The key here is triage—tackle the most frequent and hazardous sources of risk first. It would be ideal to remedy every issue immediately, but given the size and scale many businesses operate on, it isn’t always practical.
Need help establishing your safety program? Contact us.
Step 2: Implement the Safety Program Methodology
Bringing your safety program to life starts with implementing policies. The right policies can drive positive behavior changes, but they need to be geared to your industry, processes, and situation. For example, if work is done on platforms or at elevation, you should have the right fall prevention policies in place. Your EHS software should facilitate policy management, letting you quickly update and communicate policy changes to employees.
Next, implement corrective actions. This means instituting a set of actions to correct issues, problems, and instances of non-compliance or underperformance. It’s a well-defined approach to behavior modification that improves the safety culture of an organization, enhances employee performance, and helps reduce risk. To implement corrective action tracking, present each employee with a prioritized list of issues that are assigned to them for remediation. Using your software system, employees should be able to document issue completion with a photo and add comments. Remind all participants that inspections will happen again, as this a continuous process. The idea is to look for long-term solutions versus minimally acceptable fixes, such as converting an unnecessary stairstep to a ramp and railing instead of just affixing caution tape.
Engage employees with corrective actions. The more employees who are deeply involved in corrective actions, the stronger your entire safety program. A good EHS software system will help delegate issues for completion, then make it easy to track progress by individual or task, including statistics on average remediation time.
Make to train employees on workforce safety and compliance fully. Workers should be trained as soon as they’re hired, as well as whenever work changes, and provided with refresher training on an annual or more frequent basis. Discover how to train your employees correctly with our free guide to EHS training.
Struggling to implement your safety program or train your employees? KPA can help.
Step 3: Continually Manage the Workplace Safety Process
Investigate accidents as soon as they occur. Tie accident reports to investigations and then to future corrective actions:
- Accident reports should contain all incident details.
- Investigations should identify and document facts and actions.
- Corrective actions should resolve issues and minimize recurrence.
Accident investigation prevents recurrence and ensures that employees understand the company’s focus on establishing a sound safety culture. An effective EHS software tool allows for input from multiple managers and can attach photographs and other documentation.
Optimize accident reporting. Whether your workplace sees an average of one or 100 accidents per year, reporting usually isn’t (nor should it be) an everyday task. Your software can help managers along—minimizing errors and ensuring no information is missed—by asking questions to ensure that all required data is captured. Upon completion of a full accident report, the system should be able to produce all required OSHA reports and documentation.
After reporting any accident, evaluate the incident and employee behavior(s). Look for variations against industry trends—those highlights can become new focus areas for the safety program. Your software solution should allow you to view roll-up data, which is aggregated from multiple sources and simplified in a dashboard. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to compare facilities, look for trends, and assign activities and training to prevent a recurrence.
Last but certainly not least, communicate with employees. Open communication is essential for keeping employees informed on the progress of your safety program. Use tools such as an online employee portal where workers can participate in training, submit suggestions, and view documents, policies, and emergency procedures. Often, some of the most effective safety processes and policies come through an employee suggestion program.
The World’s Best Safety Programs Are Built on Solid Safety Cultures
A good safety program is not just centered on people but springs forth from people. In other words, your company needs to take care of employees and also make sure employees are taking care of themselves and each other.
This is what’s known as a safety culture. It’s about going beyond paying lip service to safety and genuinely embedding worker well-being in the beliefs and values that unite your workforce.
To establish a safety culture, you need to take stock of your organization’s current culture, determine what needs to be improved, and make safety a habit for every member of your workforce. We’ve written a whole series of articles about this—click on any of the titles below to read more:
- Is the Workplace Really Getting Safer?
- Calculating Your Safety ROI
- Making Safety a Habit
- Creating Safety Cultures: How These Companies Did It
- The 5 Habits of Highly Effective Safety Cultures
- Building a Change-Proof Safety Culture