Holistic Safety Approach

A Georgia poultry producer was fined nearly $380,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2009 for alleged violations that included failing to perform a required hazard analysis and maintaining process equipment.

Also in 2009, an Alabama pallet manufacturer was fined $189,000 for failing to establishing a testing program for noise exposure and for not implementing controls to reduce the exposure.

Employers are required by federal and state laws to provide a safe and healthy workplace, but an effective safety program goes beyond hanging posters or providing occasional training.

Workplace safety programs should combine policies, procedures, training, equipment and, perhaps most importantly, a demonstrated commitment to safety that is shared by workers and management.

A strong safety culture can help a company not only reduce the direct costs associated with poor workplace safety (such lost productivity and higher insurance and medical expenses), it can also provide indirect benefits such as increased worker job satisfaction and morale, lower turnover and better relationships between workers and managers.

OSHA recommends a four-point program that offers a good starting point for companies developing a safety culture:

  • Management commitment and employee involvement: If a company owner or supervisor seems to place a higher emphasis on speed than on safety, workers will follow suit. The management team instead should set a clear policy highlighting the importance of safety, and ask for employees’ help in identifying and correcting hazards. Worker involvement in a company’s safety initiatives will improve "ownership" and help guard against complacency.
  • Workplace analysis: Examine your workplace (or enlist outside help) with a critical eye toward safety, and address any shortcomings. Talk to workers about how they perform their tasks, and be open to suggestions that can improve safety or productivity.
  • Hazard prevention and control: Establishing safe work procedures, enforcing rules that promote safe behavior, maintaining equipment properly, providing personal protective equipment and planning how your company will respond to workplace emergencies can all prove helpful not only in reducing incidents, but also in reminding workers about their shared safety responsibility.
  • Safety training: Employees must understand not only their job duties, but also any hazards associated with the equipment or materials they’re using. Supervisors should understand the hazards and guard against complacency as well as sloppy procedures or housekeeping that can increase safety-related risks. First-aid training should also be offered.

Evacuation Planning

An effective emergency plan also considers the possible need to evacuate a workplace safely and efficiently. Evacuation plans should address potential hazards, who will be responsible for activating an evacuation, and how people will leave a building safely.

The following tips will help companies develop effective evacuation plans:

  • Post floor maps or site plans with clearly marked evacuation routes.
  • Identify who will be responsible for shutting down critical equipment or utilities.
  • Designate an assembly area. Identify a safe area near your workplace where evacuated employees can gather without hindering emergency responders.
  • Test your plan periodically and revise it after major changes to your personnel, equipment or facility.

Establish Expectations

Companies should also look for ways to provide subtle reminders about the importance of safety, such as having executives wear hardhats or safety goggles while visiting areas where protective equipment is required.

The importance of safety should be emphasized with new employees and applicants so that they understand your company’s expectations as quickly as possible. Depending on your industry, it could be helpful to review applicants’ qualifications and work histories to look for patterns of unsafe behavior or infractions.

Similarly, recognizing safe workplace behavior (such as offering small incentives for accident-free periods) also reminds workers about the importance of paying attention to safety and worksite conditions.

An effective safety program, worker education and taking steps to reduce complacency will help a company provide a safer workplace with higher morale and efficiency.

To learn more:

Next: Personal Equipment