As insurance costs spiral and workers` compensation claims escalate, it is more important than ever to plan for the health and safety of all your employees.
"A company`s profitability can now be heavily impacted by its on-the-job accident rate."
Tony Minichiello, Maximis Communications Consultants
In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a federal labor law that prescribes minimum safety and health standards for most workers. It also authorizes inspections, citations, and monetary and civil penalties to enforce its standards. The goal of the act is to assure every working man and woman in the United States safe and healthful working conditions. To achieve this goal, the act requires each employer to furnish all employees with a workplace that is free from hazards that have caused, or could cause, death or serious injury.
On-the-job accidents are also covered by a state-mandated workers` compensation policy. The basic tenet of this policy is that accidental injuries caused by, or suffered in, the course of employment require compensation specified in state laws. Unfortunately, in recent years, benefit costs resulting from injury claims under state workers` compensation have spiraled out of control, amounting to $65 billion nationwide.
For this reason alone job safety has become a major issue for all businesses. A company`s profitability can now be heavily impacted by its on-the-job accident rate. As paid-out claims to workers have exceeded insurance-company revenues, large rate increases for insurance premiums have resulted, directly affecting the corporate bottom line.
Keys to successful safety program
Active safety education, written safety programs and constant communication from company management about the importance of safety are key to the success of a corporate safety program. Follow-up is necessary to make sure that safety procedures have been learned and are being employed at the jobsite. Those who deal with safety programs have learned that these key items are the most effective in reducing the number of job-related accidents.
In addition, working with employees to promote safety awareness reduces workers` compensation costs, increases productivity, improves quality and is financially beneficial to the company. Most important, though, employees can go home in the same condition as they arrived at work.
In an attempt to assist businesses and insurance companies in managing the rising cost of workers` compensation claims and to reduce the frequency of occupational injuries, several state legislatures, among them those of New Hampshire, Maine, Florida and Oregon, have mandated or are legislating workers` compensation reform.
The main tenet of the New Hampshire bill, for example, is a requirement that all employers file annually a safety program that provides a safe and healthy work environment and prevents or minimizes workplace accidents. This process has produced positive results in the state. Legal reform in New Hampshire took effect January 1, 1995, and on December 1, 1995, S. L. Dupuis, the insurance commissioner of New Hampshire, announced an 8.4% decrease in the average insurance premium for 1996. This is a remarkable turnaround, considering that a 32% rate increase was requested by insurers in the state in 1993.
If you are the person responsible for safety in your company, you should ascertain if you have an active, current safety program for your personnel. If not, you should establish one. State legislatures, in conjunction with state labor departments and insurance providers, are aggressively promoting recommendations for mandatory workers` compensation law reform, including the filing of such written safety programs.
Here is a guideline to writing a safety program for your company. Because of the variation in the size of companies, the guideline is general and needs to be tailored to suit the specific requirements of a particular employer.
Introduction--The introductory statement should tell all employees about the overall goal of the safety program and must also convey the importance of the participation of each worker. Only through the joint commitment of management and all employees can workplace accidents and injuries be reduced or eliminated. In this statement, employees should be encouraged to work safely, report unsafe conditions and take an active role in safety by participating on the Joint Loss Management Committee or some other safety-related committee.
Mission statement--This section includes the company`s philosophy about safety and the resultant policies. It must demonstrate the commitment of company management to its employees to provide a safe workplace for them as well as emphasize the importance of this mission to management personnel.
It should be clearly stated that management personnel are accountable for the success of the company`s safety program. The company should send responsibility lists to all supervisors and managers, and their job descriptions must include the safety provisions for which they are responsible. Job performance evaluations, salary increases and bonuses or other incentives can be related to success around safety and health issues.
Responsibilities--All employees of a company have some responsibility for safety and health. Management is responsible for the overall success of the program, but everyone has an important role in implementing it. This section of the plan should detail the various duties at each level.
Safety and health committees--The safety program and its policy manual should include a description of any safety committees in the company. The number and functions of these committees will vary from company to company, depending on the scope of an individual company`s activities. It is important to the success of the company safety program to encourage employees and supervisors to actively participate in these committees. Among the committees that might be formed are:
-Joint loss management committee, whose purpose is to bring workers and management together in a cooperative effort to promote safety and health in the workplace and to make recommendations for change. The company`s safety plan should provide a number of details about this committee, including its purpose, its size, a statement about equality of representation, a plan for employee representation to be selected by employees, a statement that membership must be representative of the major work activities of the company, a provision to rotate the chair between management and employees, a meeting schedule (at least monthly), and a list of the duties of the committee.
-The hazardous materials response team is trained to respond to hazardous-materials spills if required.
-If it is the policy of the company to fight incipient fires, the incipient fire brigade will be trained in the specific responsibilities involved.
-If the company has trained first aid volunteers, the functions and duties of the first aid team should be described here.
-If the company has an emergency contingency team established to react in the event of emergencies, its duties and responsibilities should be listed.
Safety rules and regulations--For all employees to understand their responsibilities for safety and health, it is important that rules and regulations be adopted and communicated to everyone.
General safety rules can be formulated for such topics as work-area housekeeping, electrical procedures, materials handling, hand- and power-tool safety, office safety, contact with asbestos, motor vehicle procedures, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, eye and hearing protection, back injury protection, fire protection, and laser safeguards.
In addition to general safety rules, some companies will also require a hazard-communication program that establishes rules for safe use of hazardous materials in the company. Lockout/tagout procedures are needed for de-energizing equipment before performing repairs or maintenance. Confined-space entry procedures must be strictly adhered to when it is required that employees perform work in any confined area. A bloodborne pathogens program establishes procedures for employees who may be exposed to bloodborne or other potentially infectious materials.
Disciplinary policy--Disregard of safety policies, rules and procedures should be treated in the same way as disregard of other company rules, such as those governing attendance. Once the company has developed and disseminated policies dealing with those who do not comply with established rules and regulations for safety and health, it is important that these policies be applied fairly and evenhandedly to all employees, regardless of longevity or work record. A sample policy might include such steps as verbal warning by foreman or supervisor, written warning placed in personnel file, job suspension or dismissal. The policy should also contain provisions for retraining on safety rules and regulations at one of these steps, in case the employee may not have fully understood the procedures the first time.
Accident and incident investigation and reporting--The goal of all accident and incident investigation is to prevent a recurrence, not to find fault. Companies should have a written procedure for performing accident and incident investigations. Immediate supervisors, members of the Joint Loss Management Committee and other designated individuals should be designated to perform the investigation. Their goal is to determine what happened, to find out why it happened and to establish what can be done to prevent its recurrence.
It is also important to investigate and report on any incidents that may not have resulted in personal injury but could do so if they should recur.
An accident/incident report form should be developed, and all supervisors, foremen and managers who will be required to fill them out should be informed of the necessary information to be included.
Training requirements--All employees need to know about the training requirements for their jobs, as well as the reasons for such training. No one should be allowed to work with any hazardous equipment or material or in a dangerous area until properly trained. The written safety program should describe the company`s purpose in providing safety and health training and list the job areas and individual job titles that require it.
Some groups either working in a facility or with whom a company`s employees may work that could require safety training are: all new employees; employees who are transferred to other departments; managers, supervisors and foremen; outside contractors working in a company`s facility; employees who disregard safety rules and regulations; employees who volunteer for safety positions or special teams or committees such as fire brigades and emergency response teams; and Joint Loss Management Committee and other safety committee members. Another circumstance where such training may be needed is whenever new equipment is installed or new processes instituted in a facility.
Emergency evacuation and response plans--All employers, regardless of size, must establish procedures for dealing with emergencies such as fires, medical problems, hazardous material spills and natural disasters. In the event one of these emergencies occurs, all employees should know the correct procedures to follow so that there will be no delays in reaction and response. The specific plans for evacuation should be described in the program, indicating how employees leave the building or work area and where they go after exiting. The method of alarm should be well defined, and practice evacuation drills planned. Included in this section of the safety plan should be the responsibilities of all supervisors, foremen and designated response teams.
In emergencies requiring response from an in-house fire brigade, first-aid team or hazardous-materials spill team, the procedures for their responses must be included in their training, as well as in the company`s safety program.
Safety and health communications--The key to the success of any safety and health program is an open line of communications between employees and management. The safety program should encourage employees to suggest safety and health changes to management, notify management of any unsafe conditions or equipment, and actively participate in the company`s safety committees.
Among the ways management can keep employees informed on issues of safety and health are by providing all employees with a copy of the safety program, posting information such as notifications of safety meetings and the minutes of such meetings and displaying safety and health signs and posters.
Tony Minichiello is the principal of Maximis Communications Consultants, Concord, NH.