How Do We Prevent Workplace Injuries?

Preventing workplace injuries is easier said than done, but it is a manageable problem.  The key may be found in a quote from Walt Disney who once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” 

Almost everyone says they support safety, and every company owner says that safety is a priority.  Employees don’t want to get hurt, so why do we see so many workplace injuries?  So often organizations have the right policies in place, and they may conduct the proper training.  However, there is often no connection between safety administration and safe operations.  In essence they have done the “talking”, but they haven’t begun “doing”.  Following Walt’s advice could make a significant impact regarding injury prevention. 

For example, take a close look at your office ergonomics program.  If you do ergonomics training for all new hire employees, and recurrent training for all office staff you may think you’ve done all you can.  You may even offer dynamic workstations and the latest in ergonomically correct input devices.  But the questions to ask are these:  How are the employees actually interacting with their workstations on a daily basis?  Are they using those devices correctly?  Do they adjust the chair appropriately?  Do they stretch regularly?  An effective ergonomics program includes workstation evaluations, employee monitoring, and intervention when needed to correct bad habits or noncompliance.  If these last few pieces are not happening consistently then the “talking” is done, but the “doing” is missing.

Safety is sometimes an administrative activity; it could even be a collateral duty of the HR Manager.  If there is a Safety Manager, he or she may be responsible for training, OSHA compliance, and injury reporting.  But who’s responsible for safe behaviors?  Making the connection between administration and operations can make a huge impact on injury reduction.  But in order to do this the Safety Manager must have operational authority over the entire organization.  This safety person would then be able to correct any unsafe behaviors without delay.  Creating an immediate, and likely negative, consequence for unsafe behavior is often the only way to change behavior. 

Better yet, a safety committee with representatives from each department, all with operational authority, could better impact behavior within the entire organization.  Safety committees often have a meeting once a month (talking), but what happens between the meetings is the really important part (the doing).  Getting out onto the shop floor, into the offices, out to job sites, or into the company vehicles is the only way to see what is really happening.  Are employees following the rules?  Are they engaged in safe behaviors?  Are they taking shortcuts that have immediate positive impact on operations, but potentially a negative impact on safety?    

Ultimately the improvement in these areas can lead to a culture where every employee feels he or she is a safety team member.  If management properly supports safety then employees watch out for each other, they correct unsafe conditions or behaviors on their own, and they follow their training because it’s the right thing to do.  The safety program is working effectively and production no longer trumps safety.  So get out there and start doing!  You might be surprised at what you find.  For more information regarding effective safety programs check out the OSHA Safety and Health Management E-Tools.