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SAFETY: Prevention saves lives, money, time

Safety starts with prevention.

We know it, and yet so much remains for us as an industry to do to improve safety. Now, another study – this one a landmark study by the Associated Builders and Contractors – adds to the already powerful evidence that safety best practices bring down workplace injuries and deaths. However, the difficulty for our industry remains to live safely every day, making this part of all of our thinking and actions and making the U.S. construction industry the safest in the world. We’re not there yet. What are the best practices?

The ABC study discusses 24 “leading indicators that are proven to improve safety performance.” This study should be required reading for anyone involved in construction safety, including all construction managers. The ABC study discusses not only safety practices but also the best ways to plan and carry out effective safety programs.

OSHA provides excellent guidance on safety and safety programs, including their Recommended Best Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction. OSHA also offers free consultation to small and medium-sized businesses. An OSHA study of small employers in Ohio found that workers’ compensation claims at these companies fell after they worked with OSHA’s SHARP program to adopt programs similar to those described in these recommended practices.

The average number of claims dropped 52%. Costs per claim decreased by 80%. The average lost time per claim decreased by 87%. And the claims per million dollars of payroll dropped by 88%. OSHA also reports that indirect costs that result from workplace incidents – including those arising from time lost, training and replacing injured workers, replacing lost materials or repairing damage to machinery and property – are estimated to be at least 2.7 times the direct costs.

What are some of the essential elements of an effective safety program?

There is a commitment to safety. Making safety a central value puts forth a vision that the workplace will be 100 percent incident-free. This starts from the top down and includes everyone. But it entails more than putting up signs and mentioning safety during annual meetings. It must be a standing priority, part of the company’s constant vision and a routine part of making business decisions.

Safety is treated as an investment, not a cost. Safety measures are paid for properly and are not viewed as a hindrance. They are an investment in your employees and part of the cost savings because they help lower claims and insurance costs and increase productivity.

Safety is part of the continuous improvement process. Resources and time must be set aside to identify ways to strengthen and improve safety.

Training and information are provided. People who are properly trained in safety are more aware of how their actions can affect themselves and others. Posters and signs are useful, but don’t go far enough.

Training can be done in different ways, but should be ongoing and part of the development of an employee.

Workplace analysis and hazard prevention are done. Data analysis is instrumental in devising appropriate control and prevention measures. Developing Key Performance Indicators that use specific safety measurements is essential to understanding where the issues are and what is working.

Workplace environment is “blame free.” This encourages employees to report incidents (injuries and near misses) so that corrective actions can be taken. It is important to find and correct the root cause of the incident. This is the best way to prevent reoccurrences.

Successes are celebrated. Recognition, rewards and reinforcement are important. Celebrate successes both big and small. Rewarding managers and employees for their commitment to safety is essential in reinforcing the psychology of safety.

An overall Risk Management program, if carried out properly, can make a company more attractive to employees, more efficient, more profitable and safer. Clients will notice this and want to work with these organizations.

As a safety professional, we do not want to be there when something goes wrong, we want to be there to help employees perform their jobs tasks free from danger or the risk of harm. I received a call yesterday from a sheet metal supervisor on a job and he had some questions about working from a penthouse roof.

Therefore, I met him out on the job, and we went through the options to get the work done effectively and safe. We came up with two options and I let him choose which one to use. I stayed around while they set up the fall protection system just to make sure there were any further questions.

This conversation and interaction show that there is top down buy in and that the employees truly want to be safe. These are the stories that need to be talked about to show the industry that it can be down with just a simple conversation.

Bruce Morton, is a senior loss control consultant at the Milwaukee office of Marsh & McLennan Agency. He can be reached at [email protected]

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