Overview

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American companies spend $170 billion per year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses. Roughly 3.7 million workers are injured per year in the USA.1 The report indicates that although we have come a long way in ensuring that our workplaces are safe, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

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Moreover, OSHA fines are set to rise dramatically based on the New Federal Budget bill, which now allows OSHA to raise its fines for the first time in 15 years. Industry experts predict the new penalty to jump up by 78%

Workplace safety is not only about identifying and managing incidents. A successful health and safety program is a continuous process for preventing work-related injuries and diseases. It is about creating a culture where everyone is responsible and accountable for ensuring safety. It’s time now to relook at traditional health and safety program and ensure that it is adaptive to change and is sustainable before the situation becomes critical.

Follow these 5 steps to transform your health and safety program:

1. Start from the top

Strong leadership is vital for workplace safety and health. Leaders should play a key role in ensuring safer workplaces by developing the vision of occupational health and safety and ensuring that they are imbibed and accepted at all levels of the organization. They should ensure that a good and functional health and safety management system is in place. Leaders should ensure that there is an optimum focus on health and safety program, ensure appropriate allocation of resources, budgets and encourage active participation of workers and facilitate the free exchange of information between works and management.

Health and safety leadership should be involved in planning and setting performance targets, productivity metrics, remunerations and rewards, operational strategies, accountability, and collaboration. They should promote a culture that is innovative and adaptive to the ever-changing business, regulatory and competition landscape. They should lead by example, empower others to be a change agent and foster opportunities for change.

Leadership needs to create, manage and enforce policies and procedures that are consistent with the culture they seek to promote. A successful policy management program provides enterprise-wide access to health and safety related policies so that all the employees are aware of the Do’s and Don’ts.

2. Embrace change as a cultural norm

Embracing change is an age-old challenge and most organizations are resistant to change. But to sustain in this changing business environment, change is inevitable. Building a mature health and safety culture that is sustainable in this changing business environment is not just about meeting regulatory requirements but also about creating a work environment where employees are empowered, engaged and accountable.

Trust is very critical for accepting and facilitating change. A compelling reason for the change must be communicated to everyone. Employees have to understand the reason for change and the expected result. In the absence of a formal communication, employees will try to resist change. Leadership should focus on identifying and empowering change agents at various levels of the organization to ensure accountability and increased employee participation.

Employees should be trained and involved in carrying out the changes. Comprehensive training is very important to help employees understand health and safety related initiatives, identify near misses and to avoid hazards and accidents. Employees should be trained on the hazards that they will be exposed to and how to avoid any injury or accident. Employees should be also trained to deal with emergency situations. Training cannot be a one-time program and should be revisited at regular intervals to ensure that the employees are up to date.

3. Think beyond human behavior factor

Human behavior is a major factor that influences occupational safety. Most incident reports mention employee negligence as a reason for workplace incidents. However, it is important to understand that employee behavior is a reflection of the organizational culture and responsibility of leadership. It is impossible to improve health and safety performance by solely focusing on behavior modification and any process that relies on human behavior only is designed to fail. Human behavior can be modified by modifying processes. There should be a focused approach to identify and classify behaviors which led or might lead to errors. Organizational culture and policies shape and influence employee safety behavior. Policies and procedures should be created and enforced to ensure that undesirable human activities can be prevented. Employee awareness is the key. Employees should be clear of safe and unsafe behaviors. Policies, training, and employee awareness campaigns can serve to influence the perceptions held by employees regarding the importance of occupational safety.

Organizations should plan and schedule safety observations to identify and classify potential hazardous safety behavior. Processes should be defined to proactively assess the hazards associated with an activity. Regular job hazard assessments can help to assess and rank job hazards, identify the impact, likelihood, and potential frequency and define strategies to mitigate the risks.

4. Adopt process thinking to simplify complex safety challenges

A process-based approach helps evaluate even the most complex systems in a simpler way, one process at a time, to achieve the desired outcome. So the best way to analyze and utilize process thinking is to always ask “How” and “What” can go wrong. How did this happen or what can happen and not necessarily “why.” It is not about pointing fingers and finding faults.

A health and safety program on paper comprises of planning, identifying risks, designing and implementing controls and taking appropriate actions to achieve the right outcome. But in reality, there are unidentified risks that lead to no controls and no actions resulting in undesired outcome. This is where process thinking helps navigate better and ensures efficiency. A process based thinker takes into account the intent, assumptions and the approach for a program before designing the process and evaluates what and how can go wrong at each of the steps thus minimizing the number of undesirable outcomes.

Behavior based safety program is only a small part of the complete health and safety program and relying solely on that would lead to failure. A well-defined plan that includes regular risk and hazard assessments, audits, and inspections will definitely help identify and manage potential hazards and undesired outcomes ahead of time and lead to improved performance. Process thinking can thus offer a complete and sustainable solution to occupation health and safety.

5. Leverage technology to ensure success

Implementing a well-planned, technology-enabled health and safety processes to manage workplace safety and incidents can help in ensuring the success of an occupational health and safety program. Organizations should leverage technology to automate and streamline the process of policy and procedure management, employee training and awareness campaign. Technology solutions can help aggregate all information, identify risks, gauge performance, measure the effectiveness of safety programs, and ensure compliance with regulations. Technology can help automate workplace safety observations, identify and record near-missed, perform job hazard assessments, report and investigate incidents, store employee medical records, manage PPE and facility safety, and conduct audits thus facilitating a closed loop process.

Conclusion

Employee Safety shouldn’t be an after-thought. It is one of the best way to protect your two most important assets-people and reputation. Management commitment is imperative to build the foundation for improved safety performance. Once the foundation is built and employees are empowered, the entire organization will work toward creating and sustaining a safety culture that relies on process based thinking to ensure success.

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