Workplace injuries have a significant cost. Injuries cost the worker productivity, quality time doing what they love, and possibly lifetime benefits. They also carry a heavy toll on businesses. Injuries disrupt production, cost in terms of insurance liability, payouts to injured workers and their families, and can also cost in terms of reputation and turnover. 

The best way to deal with workplace injuries is to be proactive. Finding and resolving potential hazards before they cause an illness or injury can save thousands, even millions, of dollars. It can also be the foundation for improving the business in other areas. 

Businesses adopting programs such as OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) show that implementing the programs results in more output, a higher-quality product, and increases profits. 

The benefits of implementing recommended practices

Benefits abound for businesses implementing OSHA safety practices. While the primary goal is to prevent workplace illnesses, injuries, and deaths, establishing proper safety protocols has other positive benefits. Benefits include:

  • Better morale
  • Improvements in the overall process, product, and service
  • Better employee retention and recruiting
  • Improved reputation

Statistics prove that implementing a solid safety standard program helps a business’ bottom line. A small group of Ohio employers participated in a study after they worked with OSHA’s SHARP program and adopted recommended safety practices. 

The study found the average number of worker compensation claims dropped by 52 percent and the cost per claim saw an 80 percent reduction. The average lost time at work per claim decreased by 87 percent and claims based on per million dollars of payroll were reduced by 88 percent.

Workplace incidents amount to time lost because of work stoppages and investigations. They also cost in terms of leading to additional hiring and training people to replace injured workers and in loss or damage to machinery, material, and property. These indirect costs amount to total at least 2.7 times the amount of direct costs.

Implementing a workplace safety plan has another indirect benefit. It increases the trust between workers and management, between vendors and corporate executives, and between staffing companies and the business. 

A workplace safety plan tells all those involved with the business that management cares about its employees and all those who deal with the company. It shows employees that can report concerns and have those reports taken seriously. It makes the company a better place to work, which affects hiring, recruiting, and turnover.

Core elements of workplace safety

Workplace safety doesn’t need to be complicated. There are strategic key elements involved in creating and implementing safety protocols that work for any business. Using and implementing the recommendations one at a time will bring overall success in improving safety in the workplace.

Every goal must have a plan and that includes improving workplace safety. A plan must have leaders to implement and make sure it continues to function in years to come. 

Managed leadership

Leadership is key to developing and implementing an effective workplace safety plan. The first element in making health and safety a top business priority is to create a written policy that is approved and promoted by the business’ top management leaders. 

The next steps to implementing it include:

  • Communicate plan
  • Define goals
  • Allocate resources
  • Expect performance

Communication is key to creating a positive reaction to new health and safety policies and plans. That may include going beyond communicating to workers to include contractors, subcontractors, temporary workers, staffing companies, suppliers, vendors, and other businesses that are in your building. Visitors and customers may also need to be notified.

A key element is to define the goals of your health and safety program along with timelines and expectations for everyone from managers to workers. Goals should be specific, realistic, and measurable. 

The next element to consider in implementing a health and safety plan is to allocate money and other resources to put it into action. Managers need to estimate what is needed to accomplish this and budget resources.

It may seem like a large expense upfront to implement a proper health and safety plan, but the cost savings in the long run in liability insurance, employee retention, and lower payouts will more than makeup for the cost. Plus, building your reputation and the overall improvement in production and product quality could expand the business.

Expecting performance involves identifying a leader to be at the forefront of the effort, coordinate activities, and be track progress as the plan is implemented. This person will also need to identify issues, provide positive motivation and be able to create new ways to communicate.

Worker participation

A health and safety plan will not be effective unless workers participate. To increase participation employers should:

  • Give workers access to information
  • Involve workers in the process
  • Review barriers to participation
  • Have workers report health and safety concerns

One important aspect of encouraging participation is to provide confidence and comfortability to workers than the business truly wants to address concerns and will not retaliate when they raise health and safety issues. Retaliation is against the law. 

Participation can be encouraged by providing motivation and positive reinforcement for those who choose to participate. Maintaining an open-door policy to address concerns provides a level of comfortability for workers. 

Creating a specific process for workers to report illnesses, injuries, near misses, hazards and other safety issues creates confidence among workers that problems will be addressed. Telling workers what steps have been taken after an incident increases confidence and workers’ trust. 

Empowering workers with a process to request or begin a temporary shutdown of work believed to be unsafe and involving them to find solutions are also ways to encourage participation.

Flu safety

In today’s workplace, illnesses like the flu are becoming more of a health concern because of COVID-19. Workers should be encouraged to report it when they are ill instead of trying to “suffer through” to not lose hours or pay. 

Influenza spreads to others quickly through sneezing and coughing, so a sick worker could easily contaminate an entire work team or shift. 

OSHA recommends vaccination for healthcare workers and those who are at high risk for complications from the flu. Companies can do things such as encourage flu vaccinations with posters, information, and resources to make getting a vaccination easy, low-cost or free, and convenient. 

Companies should create other incentives for workers to get vaccinated at the beginning of flu season in October and November. Providing information about both the injection and nasal spray vaccinations before the beginning of flu season could also be effective in increasing participation.

Companies need to assure workers they will not be penalized if they call out sick due to illness like the flu. Some companies, to keep employees from calling out unnecessarily, penalize those who do call out with a point system. Point systems are used to defer or take about bonuses or promotions. 

The casualty of this system is the overall health of the company because it promotes workers coming in when they are ill or injured, which can cause others to become ill or contribute to an unsafe workspace. 

Policies should be developed that promote workers not using sick days, but also reward responsible behavior by those who choose to call out because they are truly too sick or injured to work. Wellness plans and behaviors should also be encouraged with incentives and education.

Providing health and safety information helps workers understand how the company is addressing issues. OSHA requires some information be made available to workers. That includes Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and non-confidential data about illnesses and injuries. Many times, providing information eliminates barriers to participation.

Hazard identification and assessment

Understanding what the hazards are in the workplace is key to addressing them. This may be one of the most cumbersome aspects of implementing a health and safety plan because all hazards must be identified and incident reports created. However, completing this task will go a long way to creating and implementing a health and safety plan that is customized to the business. 

Actions that need to be taken include:

  • Collect information on potential workplace hazards. 
  • Conduct incident investigations
  • Characterize the nature of hazards

Collecting information on all potential hazards is a big job. It involves not just writing information down, but inspecting the business for both recognized and overlooked hazards. A list would also identify hazards that could create both emergency and non-emergency situations. 

Information includes things like safety manuals, workers’ compensation records, equipment manuals, and a look at existing safety programs. Regular inspections will also yield new information as long as everything is documented.

Three basic types of health hazards exist:

  • Chemical hazards
  • Biological hazards
  • Physical hazards

Within those categories, managers need to inspect things like electrical hazards, equipment maintenance, work practices, workplace violence, and ergonomic problems. This also involves identifying incidents that could occur and planning for them such as chemical releases, hazardous spills, planned and unplanned shutdowns, maintenance, and disease outbreaks.

An investigation needs to be done regarding all incidents. The hazard can be reduced or eliminated only if management and workers understand how it occurred. This is where a clear plan needs to be in place before an incident happens. The plan should identify who conducts the investigation, who they report to, the reporting forms and templates used, the communication process used, and how to identify root causes of incidents. 

The team responsible for investigating incidents should receive training regularly, along with updated information and refresher courses. 

Characterizing hazards is done by identifying the severity of each potential problem and prioritizing them. Those that present the greatest risk should be addressed first.

Hazard prevention and control

One of the most important steps in implementing a health and safety plan is to establish controls that prevent incidents from occurring or to limit its ramification. 

Employers should:

  • Identify control options
  • Select controls for both routine work and emergencies
  • Develop a plan to implement them
  • Follow up to make sure controls are effective.

Several ways exist to identify all control options. The place to start is to look at OSHA standards, along with other information from specific industries, NIOSH publications, information from equipment manufacturers, and engineering reports. 

Managers can also get workers involved. Workers have a wealth of knowledge about their routines and equipment so they may have advice not previously considered. Those leading the health and safety effort can also talk to other similar businesses about practices they implemented. 

Select controls that are used both daily in routine work and those that are implemented in emergencies. They could be different controls so both aspects must be considered. Leaders will need to be selected to implement emergency plans

Part of their training should be to practice their leadership during regular, emergency drills. Emergency drills also let managers know if they need to purchase items to resolve hazards if there are unknown hazards and whether the protocols work effectively.

Implementing control measures should be done on a “worst-first” priority, according to the risk ranking. The ones that are easy and inexpensive to implement can be done promptly. Getting those done will also motivate the entire workforce regarding the rest of the plan. 

Business leaders can evaluate the effectiveness of the control measures by conducting regular inspections, talking to workers, and providing routine maintenance of equipment and facilities.

A way to ensure control measures are being met is to confirm that PPE policies, administrative controls, and work practices are being implemented on all levels by talking directly to lower-level employees, using anonymous questionnaires, and a regular review of maintenance and incident reports.

Education and training

Anyone involved in implementing a health and safety plan needs to make continuing education and training a part of the plan. Standards and policies can be forgotten over time, particularly as new employees come on board and older workers retire. 

Employers should:

  • Provide overall program awareness training
  • Train managers, leaders, supervisors in their roles in the health and safety program
  • Train workers on their specific roles
  • Train workers on hazard identification and controls

Overall training about the program should be given to everyone from managers, workers, and even subcontractors and temporary workers. This should include an overview of safety and health policies, goals and procedures, functions of the program, and who to go to if there are questions or concerns. 

Training should include how to report issues, emergency procedures, worker’s rights, and information about controls. 

Modern training could also include dealing with extreme situations, such as workplace violence or unwanted persons entering the facility to commit violence. It could also include dealing with disgruntled workers or ways workers under stress can cope before their behavior causes an unsafe work environment.

Anyone who has a leadership role in implementing the health and safety plan will need additional training regarding their responsibilities under the OSH Act and workers’ rights under the Act. This includes reporting procedures, encouraging reporting, recognizing hazards, and determining root causes of incidents. 

Likewise, workers need training on their specific roles in preventing incidents. This includes proper job training, how to report illnesses and injuries, and using a computer to submit a report. It could also include assigning specific roles with responsibilities, hazard recognition, and controls. Workers should be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback.

All workers should be able to see hazards and understand what could happen on the job. They also need to know how to prioritize and control hazards, good work practices, and how to use PPE.

Program evaluation and improvement

Once a health and safety plan is in place, those in leadership positions need to be able to ensure it works effectively. This means managers and leaders should:

  • Monitor performance and progress
  • Verify the program is implemented and operating
  • Correct any failures or issues with the program

Monitoring the performance of a health and safety program will include both lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators track illnesses and injuries reported. Leading indicators are those that track how well the program’s implementation. In other words, it gives managers an idea of what incidents have been prevented.

To get an idea of lagging indicators, managers must examine workers’ compensation claims, the number of illnesses and injuries reported both with and without a claim filed, and the results of worker exposure monitoring showing hazardous threats. 

Leading indicators involve a different type of data that include the level of worker participation, the number completing a training program, the number of hazards, near misses and first-aid cases reported, how long it takes to respond to reports, the number of employee safety suggestions and the number of hazards found during inspections. Managers must also consider the severity of hazards found. 

Regular communication with managers and employees will verify the program is being implemented. Inspections, reviewing injury reports, and tracking hazard controls also helps add to the data. 

Taking a proactive stance to resolve any failures of the program is the most important thing a business can do. Businesses do this by seeking input from everyone at the company and reviewing any recent changes in facilities, equipment, or work practices. A review may require changes in the program to include new or changed aspects. 

A review of performance indicators and goals will help determine if they remain relevant and may also prompt updating. 

Communication and coordination

Communication and coordination can be challenging, especially if a business involves those outside the company such as vendors, contractors, subcontractors, and temporary employees. Creating an effective way to promote safety beyond the company’s employees involves two aspects:

  • Establishing effective communication
  • Establishing effective coordination

The key element to establishing effective communication is to ensure contractors, staffing agencies and workers are aware of safety issues before coming on site. That includes understanding hazards that may be there, procedures needed to control or avoid exposure to hazards, and the process to report an incident, illness, or concern. 

Effectively communicating this means regularly providing information to contractors, subcontractors, or staffing agencies. It may also mean requiring a safety orientation before others can come on-site. Contract employers and staffing agencies should retrain the right to do site visits and inspections. They should also be able to access records relating to safety, illness, and injuries.

The contractor or staffing agency should also be able to communicate with the company’s managing director about any concerns submitted to them. 

Employers, called host employers when dealing with contractors and staffing companies, should include safety-specific information in all contracts and bid documents. Companies should also have identified possible safety issues and have procedures in place to resolve any issues with contractors or staffing agencies before work starts. 

Host employers should also work with these other companies to make sure workers coming to the site are trained, that work is properly scheduled, and have policies that protect all workers the same way with consistent information. 

Managers who can make decisions should be available daily so contractors and agencies have someone to talk to about issues. Both host employers and agencies need to reasonably look at employees needed and the time to train them before planning schedules.

Construction Safety

OSHA distinguishes the construction industry from other types of work and has rules specific to that industry. Construction is considered a high-risk industry that involves a wide array of activities. Each activity, from carpentry, masonry, electrical, to repair requires specific guidelines to improve safety. 

There is also a vast amount of equipment used at construction sites from bulldozers to saws, and each of those has its unique set of hazards. 

Some rules include certifications for use of certain equipment, such as cranes. OSHA requires crane operators to be certified. It also has additional rules for cranes and derricks used in railroad or roadway work. 

There are also qualifications for signal persons and qualifications for maintenance and repair employees. 

Ladder safety

One of the biggest elements of construction safety is fall protection and implementing a training program on preventing falls from ladders, scaffolding, and other pieces of equipment. 

The rules insist companies train employees on how to erect, maintain, disassemble and inspect devices and how to use safety equipment such as safety nets, guardrail systems, and controlled access zones to prevent falls. 

This includes how to safely erect a ladder, allow for spotters when necessary and how to move ladders in a safe way to avoid other types of injuries.

OSHA rules also call for retraining when employees appear to not have the understanding or skill required or when previous training becomes obsolete. 

Understanding the importance of safety precautions is one thing. Implementing a plan to proactively prevent illnesses and injuries is something entirely different. It can take effort, time, and money but investing in employees’ safety amounts to long-term success on many levels, including the bottom financial line.