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#2 - The "whys" are just as important as the "whats"

Those of us who are responsible for administration of company safety policy are often put to the test when introducing new rules to employees. The abiding issue is “what’s in it for me?” and in many cases, the worker does not see a personal benefit to the proposed policy change. More rules often serve to slow down the work process, and the all-too-common employee response is resistance to the new policy, which has a negative impact on both compliance and morale.

In my view, the situation is only made worse when we insist on focusing on the “what,” and avoid addressing the “why.” We are generally quite good at telling the workers what we are requiring of them, but the real reasons why we are instituting the changes is dealt with obliquely. We seem to expect that the reasons will be self-evident; i.e., safer is better, and this will make you safer.

The workers don’t necessarily think that they were unsafe in the first place, so new safety measures are often viewed as only serving to make their work lives more difficult. More importantly, there is a burning question in the back of the employee’s mind: Why do you care if I’m safe or not? Are you trying to tell me that you actually care about me?

That, my friend, is the million dollar question. Literally.

I believe that companies and organizations avoid addressing this question because they fear being misunderstood. The workers suspect that the company safety program is driven by economic concerns (true statement). However, nobody is willing to say it out loud, and the silence leads workers to conclude that the company is ashamed of itself. Beyond that, refusing to say it is about money leaves the company in a position where they have to come off as if it is an act of altruism.

This approach would work if the employees were stupid. Instead, it insults their intelligence. They are fed up with being patronized, and yearn for someone, anyone, to tell them the truth. This is why I’m saying that employee buy-in of a company safety program will only increase if you tell them it’s about money. The workers already know it, and you will gain their respect when you muster the courage to say it in so many words.

This is #2 in a series of blogs on this subject. Please feel free to comment on my assertions thus far.

For more information on how to improve employee buy-in of your safety program, go to www.tuningintosafety.com

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Tony Martin
#1 - Tell them it’s about money

Presenting safety initiatives to employees is a major challenge in today’s workplace.  I’ve had to do it myself, and I can say that it is an unpleasant and unrewarding assignment at best.  It seems to me that each time I was tasked with introducing a new safety rule, the workers came away with a reduced ability to cope with the changes.  There was always a disequilibrium in their minds, because they couldn’t figure out what was motivating the company to complicate their work day with more bureaucracy.  Everyone in the audience was thinking “they can’t be serious - the company is going to go broke if they keep slowing us down like this!”

A bigger issue was that the workers couldn’t see how the new requirements would benefit them personally.  Instead of feeling as though safer was better, they were choosing to see it as making their lives more difficult.  A fellow I know summed up this mindset very well when he told me, “the rules are stupid, and they keep me from doing my job.”

As supervisors, we were really good at coming up with new safety rules and regulations.  However, we never acknowledged the elephant in the room, which was that our audience wasn’t buying what we had to sell.  At that point, the only card we had left to play was that if they didn’t follow the rules, we would fire them.  We would get compliance, begrudgingly, but those same rules would be broken in a heartbeat if the workers thought nobody was looking.

I’ve had some time to think about all this, and it is now clear to me that we were skipping a step or two.  How much better it would have been if we were able to talk freely about what was really driving the company’s safety program.  In other words, our message would have been received very differently if we were able to tell the workers that it is about money.

If it were up to me, this is how I think it should go:

  1. Emphasize that nobody wants to see someone get hurt.  Everyone here has families and friends, and we all suffer emotionally when people we know get injured or killed.

  2. Explain that if you’re wondering why the company is spending what appears to be exorbitant amounts of money on safety programs and equipment, it’s because it can cost exponentially more when incidents take place.  Slowing you down with rules and regulations is a calculated business decision.

  3. Make clear that while injuries will cost the company a bunch of money, they will write a check and be done with it.  You and your family could pay for the rest of your living days if you get hurt in a workplace incident.

At first glance, this approach might seem abrupt and offensive.  I would argue that saying “its about money” would make perfect sense to workers and would increase buy-in and overall success of a company safety program.

This is #1 in an upcoming series of blogs on this subject.  Please feel free to comment on my assertions thus far.

For more information on how to improve employee buy-in of your safety program, go to www.tuningintosafety.com

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Tony Martin
Counting the Costs - Part 1

The world of work has changed dramatically in recent years.   One example of this change is workplace safety, which has risen to become a dominant concern in industry.  Now, more than ever, businesses and organizations are committing tremendous resources to keeping their workers safe.  This involves investments in policy development, equipment, and training, but also implies a shift in workplace culture.  Everyone is being asked to think differently, and while most are adjusting, others are clearly not.

While the bigger companies of the world have led the way on this front, small business is also changing its focus to improve safety for its workers.  There are numerous reasons for this, but the primary catalyst is that we have gained an awareness of the true costs of workplace injuries. Where a job-related injury was once viewed as an isolated expense on the company ledger, there is now broad recognition that the costs are much greater than we originally thought.

This dynamic has worked in the favor of the worker.  Most companies now emphasize the idea of “look before you leap” and encourage their employees to take the time to assess risks before performing a task.  At first glance, this would appear to hurt production, and therefore, our ability to make money. However, when looking at the bigger picture, it is clear that we will actually come out ahead when we limit expenses related to workplace injuries.

So what does it cost a company when someone gets hurt on the job?  Most of us are aware of the direct costs, which are items like ambulance rides, hospital stays, surgeries, physical rehabilitation, prescriptions, etc.  Direct costs also include Workers Compensation and related disability payments. These expenses can be mind-boggling in this day and age, but are often covered by insurance.  We’re not off the hook, however, because the direct costs of a workplace injury are only one piece of the puzzle. What many people fail to take into account are the hidden costs, also known as indirect costs.  These are expenses that aren’t covered by insurance and thus have a greater financial impact on a business.

Indirect Costs

There is a long list of indirect costs related to a workplace injury.  I refer to these as cascading liabilities, because each one has a negative effect on all the others.  In other words, you can’t incur one of these expenses without it causing other costs to increase. Here is a short list of the major indirect costs borne by a business when their workers get hurt:

Costs related to replacement workers - an injured employee typically cannot function fully in their job role, so the business either does without their services, or hires a replacement.  If the business doesn’t hire a replacement, it may forfeit any revenue the employee could have generated. Beyond that, extra workload distributed to the other employees could contribute to fatigue and increase the risk of another incident taking place.  Keep in mind, however, that a replacement worker is no free lunch. There are costs related to the recruitment process, and there is always a learning curve for the new employee, even when they bring significant experience to the table.

Administrative overhead - a workplace injury triggers an avalanche of paperwork related to incident reporting, insurance claims, etc. This ties up resources on the part of administrative staff, who could otherwise be using their time to help generate revenue for the company.

Insurance cost increases - while the direct costs of a workplace injury are often covered by Workers Compensation, the claim will likely result in increased premiums.  Workers Compensation premiums are typically based on a national survey that assesses the risk associated with the job duties of the employee. However, they can adjust up or down depending on a number of factors related to the business being covered.  If the business takes steps to reduce the risk to its workers, the premiums may be reduced. However, injuries and associated claims will cause them to increase in a big way. To make matters worse, a premium increase will typically remain in effect for three years after the claim.

Increased regulatory oversight - depending on the severity of the incident, regulatory agencies such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) could conduct an investigation on your premises.  Citations and fines can be the result, and repeat visits are a possibility if the inspectors think your business could be a trouble spot.

Loss of competitive ability - any increase in overhead expenses for a company will reduce its ability to compete.  In some cases, a poor safety record can cause a business to be disqualified from bidding for contracts with State and Federal agencies, as well as many private concerns.

Erosion of company image - workplace injuries and the associated bad press can make consumers think twice about purchasing products or services from your company.  This can also make it more difficult to recruit new employees because people don’t want to work for a company that has a poor safety record.

Adding it all up, the indirect costs of a workplace injury can be harmful for any company, but will have an even harsher impact on small businesses.  Conservative estimates place the indirect costs of an injury at up to 4.5 times that of the direct costs. The crushing financial impact of a workplace injury clearly shows that investments in safety can pay back in very short order.

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Tony Martin
Counting the Costs - Part 2

Societal attitudes

There are still many folks who believe that if you’re working the way you should be, then it is reasonable to expect that you’ll get hurt from time to time.  A really good example of this is the condition of a workman’s hands. Lots of people won’t believe that you work as an automotive technician unless your hands are torn up.  In fact, you may be made to feel that you are either lying or you’re a complete slacker if you don’t have cracked nails, swollen knuckles, or even missing parts of fingers. These attitudes are an indicator that society hasn’t fully embraced the notion that all injuries are preventable, and that we shouldn’t be making peace with anyone getting hurt on the job.

The company you work for may be proactive on the safety front, and moving towards developing a workplace culture that doesn’t accept injuries as a natural outcome of the work process.  However, they certainly can’t hold your hand while you work. In the end, the success of a company safety program still boils down to the buy-in on the part of its employees. It won’t matter how many rules are put in place, what equipment is purchased, or how much training the employees receive.  If they don’t want to follow the rules, they won’t.

The question is: why wouldn’t the employees want to follow the rules?

There is no simple answer to this question.   In some cases, the worker believes that taking risks in the name of production makes them a better employee.  This attitude could have been passed down to them by previous generations, who lived at a time where production was the only real concern.  Posturing may also be a factor if the workplace culture is dominated by those wanting to show the world that real men have a high risk tolerance.  What is troubling about these mindsets is the assumption that they will be the only ones affected if they get injured in a workplace incident.

In any case, those who engage in unsafe work practices are not seeing the bigger picture.  You may have gotten away with dangerous shortcuts in the past, and now you’ve reached the point where they are standard practice.  Getting yourself hurt isn’t a matter of if, only when. And when you do get hurt, you won’t be the only one that pays the price.

On a personal level

Just like your employer, you will incur direct and indirect costs if you get injured.  However, while it will cost your company a lot of money, they will write a check and be more or less done with it.  You, and your family, could potentially pay for the rest of your lives.

Your direct costs due to an injury are easy to quantify.  Basically, these are expenses that leave less money in your pocket than what you would have made if you weren’t injured.  First off, your income isn’t going to be anywhere near what you are making while you’re at work. You may have yourself fooled into thinking that Workers Compensation is a free lunch, but it’s time to set the record straight on that.  The reality is that Workers Compensation typically pays anywhere from 60% to 80% of your base pay (no overtime or bonuses included). This number would be roughly the same if you were receiving long-term disability payments. I encourage you to do this calculation, then think carefully about how your bills will be paid if this is what you’ll have to live on.

Another angle on direct costs that we should discuss is that a workplace injury could leave your employer in a compromised financial position.  That being said, this could impact you directly by limiting your employer’s ability to grant pay raises and bonuses. Taken one step further, it could also lead to layoffs if the company’s business is negatively impacted.

Medical expenses of a workplace injury are often fully covered by Workers Compensation.  However, if you get hurt away from work, you will be subject to deductibles and copays when you file a health insurance claim (assuming you have health insurance).  It is also possible for your claim to be rejected, forcing you to engage in an appeal that may involve legal representation.

Now that we’ve discussed your direct costs if you get hurt in a workplace incident, it’s time to look at some of your indirect costs.  These oftentimes are expenses that you can’t put a dollar value on; in other words, priceless! And, just like indirect costs for your employer, these are the ones that will have the biggest impact on you and your family.

Loss of quality time - there are all sorts of activities that you enjoy with friends and family when you are away from work.  Many of these are physical in nature, such as sports and outdoor endeavors, and you may not be able to participate in these at the same level (or not at all) if you are disabled due to a workplace injury.  Think carefully about this; how much enjoyment do you derive from being able to recreate with those who are closest to you? It is an understatement to say that watching from the sidelines isn’t the same.

Physical pain and suffering - there are many minor injuries that heal up and don’t seem to have a lasting impact in terms of physical pain.  However, a serious injury can leave the worker with chronic pain and the potential to develop a dependence on painkillers.  If you know someone that is suffering from an addiction to opiates or other controlled substances, you can testify to the misery that they inflict on themselves and those that are closest to them.

Alienation - a workplace injury can leave you with a lot of spare time.  Too much time on your hands can lead to your mind wandering to places it shouldn’t go, and one of those places is self-accusation.  You are your own worst critic, and your self-esteem tends to take a pounding when you aren’t earning your living the way you feel you should.  This directly impacts your relationships with your loved ones and friends, only magnifying the suffering you are experiencing.

Take care of yourself

I would suggest that those who assume inappropriate risk in the workplace haven’t thought very carefully about the ramifications.  To quote a famous phrase, “It isn’t about you.” Dangerous shortcuts or negligence that takes place in the name of getting a job done right away could lead to terrible consequences for your family and your coworkers.  You can make simple changes in your work practices that will help you, your family, and friends prosper. Here is a short list of items that you might consider:

  1. Discipline yourself to wear the appropriate PPE during the workday.  This includes safety glasses, hard-toe boots with metatarsal guards, gloves, and face shields.

  2. Don’t make peace with malfunctioning equipment, especially when safety is involved. For example, are you willing to work underneath an automotive lift if the safety catches are inoperative?

  3. Don’t walk by safety issues such as slippery floors without doing something about them.

  4. Think carefully before lifting heavy objects.  Is there a safe way to lift it by hand, or is it time to put a jack or hoist to work?

I encourage you to do the right thing and think beyond yourself when you are making critical safety decisions at work.  You won’t regret taking the time to do it right when you enter your retirement years injury-free!

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Tony Martin