Safety is expensive. Without it, a single accident could be enough to bring down an entire company. Properly enforced, it comes with recurring costs for training, equipment, and extending time on the job to make sure it’s done the right way without cutting corners. Either way, money will be spent. This begs the question: when does it make the most sense to spend money on safety?
In an ideal world, money would be spent on safety to prevent accidents and injuries from happening. The sad truth of the matter is that it’s typically spent after the disaster happens. According to the Department of Labor, every year more than 4.1 million workers suffer a serious job-related illness or injury. Worse than that, they report that over 4,500 die on the job—that’s 12 workers a day. The only way to save both lives and money from accidents is to prevent them in the first place.
By utilizing the “Three Es” of safety spending—Education, Engagement, and Expectations, money is well spent in cultivating a safe and productive workplace where both lives and ultimately the bottom line can be saved.
Training and education for employees is key to promoting a culture of safety. It allows an employer to not only establish their own standards and expectations, but opens the doorway for employees to embrace educating themselves on other safety practices as well. Though some training is best completed in a classroom setting, for most industries providing hands-on training through demonstration and practice will garner the best results.
Additionally, companies investing the time, money, and resources to have their employees become OSHA certified in their field is also highly beneficial. Most OSHA standard books are 600+ pages long, and it’s not realistic to have an employee understand all of those standards without receiving any sort of education behind them. By becoming certified, they not only have the education to promote safe-working habits that will protect themselves and often their co-workers, they will also have the ability to identify hazardous or code breaking situations that could ultimately save a company the costly expense of fines or having a work site shut down for non-compliance.
Supporting a Department of Labor approved or certified apprenticeship program is also worth considering as an investment. This is a great way to promote employee learning and safety, as employees are held accountable to their training through testing and on the job mentors that monitor their work practices and learning. Apprenticeships offer a chance for practical experience to be gained in OSHA practices as well, and often will enhance the opportunity for employees to commit to a company for the length of their apprenticeship if not longer, preventing high turnover rates.
There are several programs, resources, and initiatives to assist companies with both internal and third-party training for their employees’ available nation-wide. For a comprehensive list of training opportunities, visit osha.gov.
In addition to fostering a culture of safety, a culture of engagement should also be heavily encouraged. If an employee is engaged in their job—that’s to say that their job expectations are clear, they have the tools required to do the job, they feel like they can approach their supervisor with their ideas or concerns, and they feel camaraderie with their crew or teammates—then they are more likely to keep the safety of their crew and the success of their company at the forefront of their mind when working.
Engagement is enhanced or encouraged through recognition. Positive reinforcement of safe practices and procedures will help to make safety more than a priority—it will be instilled as a value. On-the-spot recognition, whether it be a verbal kudos, a note of thanks for a job well done, or posting a picture of an employee getting “caught” following a safe practice and shining a positive light on them for doing so can really go a long way.
Ultimately, small gifts of appreciation for employees are a lot less expensive than the costs associated with turnover or those that happen as fallout from an accident caused by a disengaged employee. The same could be said for team-building excursions or buying lunch for the crew once in a while. Coupled with frequent and adequate training, engagement and recognition will help to solidify a safe work environment.
Finally, safety goals cannot be met if workers do not know what they are in the first place.
Many companies have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to taking short cuts in lieu of following correct safety procedures—but how are employees supposed to follow that policy if they don’t know it exists? When it comes to safety policies and procedures, communication is key.
In addition to employee handbooks and policy books, it’s important to provide a constant stream of communication to employees about safety practices. Daily tailboards or safety briefs held before the day’s work begins is a great way to remind employees of safe work habits and procedures. Instituting a safety committee to help conduct internal audits and safety checks is another great way of giving employees hands-on involvement in securing a safe worksite.
Consistent and effective communication with a special focus on safety is a cost-effective, manageable way to set clear expectations daily for workers to follow.
The best and most important time to spend money on safety is any time it will help to prevent a work place accident from happening. Not only will this save money in the long run (prevention is certainly cheaper than the costs associated with an on the job incident), it will help to save lives. By educating, engaging, and setting expectations, companies can create and promote a culture of safety throughout their organization.