Creating a Zero Tolerance for Workplace Injuries by @HRTMExec

Many companies think it’s too expensive to provide a safe working environment, but consider these statistics:

  • Investing in proactive workplace safety processes can yield a $6.15 return on investment for every dollar spent.

  • In 2012, private industry employers reported approximately three million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses, while 793,000 cases were reported for state and local government employers.

  • Each year, occupational injuries and illnesses cost businesses nearly $250 million.

Many employers don’t understand the total costs of accident claims, according to Greg Andress, ARM, safety and loss control manager at Frank Winston Crum Insurance, which is the affiliated carrier for FrankCrum, a national professional employer organization.

In addition to premium, deductibles, and fees for worker’s compensation, factor in the costs of interrupting the operations after an accident occurs; loss of production by the injured worker, coworkers, and supervisors; the cost of training another employee to temporarily fill the injured worker’s position; damage to the equipment; and possible legal fees. A $1,000 claim could potentially cost $5,000 or more.

However, there are other costs to consider as well.

As an employer, Andress says that you have both a legal and a moral duty to protect your workers from injury and illness on the job. “When we talk about the importance and the ‘actual costs’ of a workplace injury, we should consider more than the financial burden on the business.”

He continues, “Is there not also a moral responsibility to your employees?  A workplace injury will impact them both financially and socially.”

Depending on specific state statutes, injured workers might receive replacement wages, but Andress says only a portion of the original pre-injury wages will be recouped.  “Consider that an average household often requires two incomes to operate, but now after an injury must modify their living standard, often drastically, and rely on less income. This can and will change their lives.”

And there will also be social and emotional costs for the injured employee and their family members. “As an injured parent, you may never be able to push your children on a swing at the park again or play catch with them.  As the injured employee’s spouse, you might have to also assume the role of caregiver and learn how to load a wheelchair into the modified handicap van.”

Andress provides a sample of statements taken from injured workers who have come into contact with his company:

  • “I am a different person. I was changed forever by that experience.”

  • “I’m still affected by the accident. As I am right handed, I now can’t write properly because I don’t have great control over the pen. My hand is now easily affected in cold weather: in the winter months my fourth finger will go numb and a dull ache will affect my hand.”

  • “My neurologist told me that as it hasn’t healed by now, the chances are it won’t get any better. So I’m left to get on with my life.”

  • “I don’t know if I’ll ever play any sport again, never mind reach my previous level.”

So what can HR professionals do to help create a safer work environment?

For starters, Andress says we must understand that we all have a responsibility to create and sustain a safe work environment. To be successful, both employers and employees should jointly set goals and then work together to achieve them. “Effective safety programs can’t be bought off the shelf or found in the magazines stuffed in the airplane seat pocket. They need to be tailored to your operations and culture and support your overall business objectives.”

Usually, the safety “breakdown” will occur at the supervisory level because, Andress says, supervisors are trying to meet their production goals and have a tendency to lose sight of anything that stands in the way of meeting these goals.  “As an employer, it is important to hold your supervisory staff accountable for injuries and, more importantly, near misses. Safety should be a measurable performance review category, especially for supervisors.”

After your supervisors are onboard, Andress says the next step is to ensure that everyone in the workplace understands your culture and expectations for a safe workplace. He admits that it is difficult to stay injury free, but warns, “If employers don’t set safety goals at zero, they are sending a message to their employees that accidents are acceptable or even unavoidable.”

Companies should focus on preventive measures or leading indicators – which measure weaknesses in advance, instead of using lagging indicators – which identify past occurrences.

The next step is to make sure that your employees are properly trained.  “It is especially important to review and document with employees the ‘tricky’ parts of their jobs. Unwritten rules and procedures become hazy and are far too open to different interpretations.”

After workers are trained, Andress says employers will have the tools to monitor, coach, and correct employees when:

  • Communicating and enforcing existing standards

  • Measuring employees’ activities as compared to training and then offering suggestions on how the job might have been done differently

  • Communicating with employees and requiring them to report any conditions they see as hazardous (typically, employees will see these opportunities for improvement much quicker than anyone)

  • Updating procedures as necessary, orienting new employees, and conducting refresher sessions for all employees when processes change

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