Planning safety is one thing, but practicing it is another. Many factors can motivate you to integrate safety plans and measures into your company's culture, including legal reasons, public image, and employee/labor relations. Creating and executing an emergency action plan is just one step in the process.

Cost of safety

Safety is a good investment, but you can't calculate employee satisfaction and retention immediately. However, the numbers do show over time. When accounting for safety's financial impact, remember to consider safety's positive effect on employee productivity. A good safety program instills pride in the workplace, which contributes to productivity and retention. To put this in management language, loss control has economic factors—possible losses, returns from insurance, cost of insurance, and cost of accident prevention. If accident prevention is based on economics alone, the rate of return on investment is low.

Determining the cost of safety is simple. Use the amount of sales that must be generated to pay for an incident. Use the Bureau of Labor Statistics' incident rates, average costs per incident, and direct safety and health costs. When you think about a preventable incident, examine medical costs; lost wages; workers' compensation insurance; death; hospital treatment; job delay; permanent disability; overtime on the job to get back on schedule; damage to buildings, vehicles, and machinery; legal fees; stopped production; third-party investigation; fines; cancelled contracts; hiring replacement staff; litigation; loss of experience and expertise; lower morale; loss of image and goodwill; and business interruptions. Clearly, preventable incidents are costly.

Safety training

If you experience an accident, OSHA will want proof of how employee training is conducted. Training can be a “toolbox talk,” formal training in a classroom environment, or jobsite training. All training must be documented with at least a signed attendance roster and any written tests and/or a trainer's observation report kept on file. Products, such as a worker's safety checklist and worker safety cards, exist to serve this function.

Because companies are required to protect employees from known hazards, it's imperative to train employees to recognize how to protect themselves from those hazards. A good place to start is by looking at the injuries and incidents you've seen over the last few years; this is a list of areas you need to focus on. For many companies, fall protection is always high on the list.

Incident investigation

On the off chance that an incident occurs, it's crucial to respond to and investigate it. Too often, employees don't want to involve the manager, because they want to push the occurrence under the rug. However, involving the safety manager can help determine the root cause and initiate corrective actions that can prevent a reoccurrence.

The investigation process should follow certain guidelines to ensure appropriate action is taken. First, analyze the data and find the root cause of the incident. Next, inform all employees about the incident and resist the urge to dismiss or minimize what occurred. Each employee needs to learn from the incident—no matter how minor it seems—so similar incidents can be avoided in the future. Once employees are properly notified, then implement the recommendations from the investigation and follow up to ensure the recommended steps were taken.

Your commitment to investigation should go well beyond incidents, encompassing every near miss as well. Too often, companies don't investigate an event if everything turned out OK. But management continually needs to ask the difficult questions when something goes awry in order to prevent near misses from becoming future incidents.

See results

Safety plans are necessary and a legal requirement, but companies that make a conscious effort toward creating a positive safety culture will find their safety programs go far beyond fulfilling the letter of the law. Companies committed to the long-term process of an outstanding safety program reap big dividends over time—and that's a benefit no company can afford to ignore.

— Tim Neubauer is safety director for Citadel Contractors Inc. For more information about safety, contact him at 919-362-5122