Safety is number one for a reason – it saves lives, money, and injuries that can occur in the workplace when people aren’t careful, procedures aren’t followed, or machines aren’t well-maintained. Unfortunately, measuring safety performance is a tricky proposition. For a long time, the only real measurement taken was the number of incidents that occurred. A company would conclude that as long as its number of incidents was low, it was conducting business in a safe way and employees were protecting themselves adequately against injuries and accidents. Unfortunately, time has revealed that this strategy doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about how safe a work floor truly is. Intuitively, the notion that less injuries equates to higher levels of safety makes sense, but there are several flaws in this belief.
One of the biggest problems is that we can only record what is reported to us, and just because no injuries were reported doesn’t mean that none of them occurred. Workers may either feel that an injury is not significant enough to report (regardless of whether it actually is or not) or they might not want to be seen as a problem or draw attention to themselves by admitting that they got hurt on the job. Additionally, the paperwork for reporting might be time consuming and deter people from coming forward to report. The other problem is that “near misses,” or times in which an incident could have occurred but luckily didn’t, are not taken into account. Think about all of the times that you may have taken a risk or done something not entirely safe but were fortunate enough to not have anything actually bad happen as a result. In most cases, workplace injuries are a numbers game that involve a pattern of risky behavior until eventually something goes wrong. This is the single biggest reason why measuring safety based upon just reported incident numbers is ineffective.
Here are some ways you can effectively monitor safety…
– Monitor employee behavior: This is a good way to report near-misses and find out what things workers are doing that might be putting themselves or others at risk for injury. One way to collect this information is through anonymous peer evaluations. Ask employees to fill out a survey on what they’ve seen and if anyone has been doing anything that is unsafe or worries them. Another way is to have someone in charge of your safety procedures and training program observe the workplace and do a similar type of evaluation. If you don’t have a person in this role, hire someone; safety programs should be intentional and well-organized, even if it means paying someone to dedicate work hours to that task.
– Altering safety behavior: Especially in the physical labor-force, it is common for attitudes to reflect the notion that reporting injuries and incidents is frivolous. One of the best things you can do for your safety operations is to change the mindset of your workplace culture. Emphasizing time and time again that safety is important, and showing that is the only way to start to reinforce the notion that safety reporting is not something to roll one’s eyes about. One way to do this is to bring in a guest speaker who has been injured on the job during a training session. Having the speaker explain how their injury has changed his or her life, what activities he or she must now miss out on, etc. can hit home. Most people will not respond to the middle-of-the-road type injuries, but the worst case scenario of a severe and disabling injury usually has the power to get through to people. Make sure that your speaker is respected and that their words are heard.
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These are only a couple ways to go about it, but the main idea is to be involved and pro-active about seeking safety improvements, instead of just looking the other way and being satisfied with (hopefully low) incident numbers.