Much is done to keep employees safe on the job site. Safety signs are posted, guards and barricades are erected, protective equipment is issued, and the work area is kept as safe as possible. At home, safety is up to the employee.
If an employee gets hurt off the job, the employer is affected through days away from the job and insurance costs. It isn’t easy to replace good employees, even for a short time. The National Safety Council reports that, in 2006, off-the-job (OTJ) injuries and deaths cost at least $223.7 billion in lost wages, medical and hospital costs, and administrative expenses associated with insurance.
Unfortunately, even workers who are well trained in safety, with good safety habits on the job, seem to forget some or all of that training once they leave the job site. A recent study revealed that accidents away from work accounted for more than 70 percent of all deaths and more than 55 percent of all injuries to employees. OTJ safety needs to be seen as an extension of the on-the-job safety training. Until recently, off-the-job safety was not considered part of an employer’s business concerns. It is now seen to help employers manage their healthcare costs and profits and to help save the lives of their employees and families.
The rates of deaths and injuries are so much higher off the job because safety rules are in place in the workplace environment and typically are followed, and workers are performing tasks that they are very familiar with on the job. The off-the-job environment tends to be much more relaxed. Safety rules are ignored or unknown, and people are performing tasks of which they may not be familiar.
An OTJ safety program can help to reinforce the idea that the safety training at work can help keep employees and their families safe when they are not at work. This type of safety program also lets workers know that their health and safety off the job is as important to their employers as it is on the job. It is important when developing an OTJ plan to avoid appearing heavy handed. The plan should encourage employee participation, not mandate it, as is the case with an on-the-job safety plan. Delivering the program as a series of suggestions and helpful hints may help to increase employee buy-in. When implementing such a plan, it is crucial it not appear that the employer is dictating how employees behave during their personal time with family.
As with any training program, there are two possible approaches to take when presenting it to your employees: the subtle approach and the not-so-subtle approach. With the subtle approach, information can be distributed through payroll stuffers, e-mails, a work site poster or articles in a company’s newsletter. Information is distributed to people to use as they see fit, with little fanfare.
The not-so-subtle approach offers a more assertive and effective way to implement such a safety program and involves others in the organization. It can be started by announcing and explaining the program in a toolbox talk. This talk should include the rationale behind the program (to keep employees safe during off hours), a description of what the program will provide to the employees, and a summary of what will be accomplished through the program.
Seasonal safety topics relevant to the employees should be presented regularly. Possible topics could include the following:
• Safe use of recreational vehicles, such as ATVs, motorcycles and jet skis
• Preventing sunburns
• Safe use of power tools, such as mowers, trimmers and chainsaws
• Preventing frostbite
• Winter driving
• Holiday safety
• Hunting safety
It is effective to use some of the same methods that were used in the subtle approach to disseminate the program’s information. However, this is only a skeleton program, and it will be necessary to add depth to it, requiring more time and money. But like an on-the-job program, an OTJ program will reap both financial and goodwill benefits for the employer.
One possible way to round out the program may be to provide personal protective equipment to the employees that may have weekend projects planned. This can be a simple as providing safety goggles and earplugs, but the offer reinforces the need and importance of using this equipment.
Another possibility is to compile a library of owner’s manuals for common power equipment. Often, the manuals are not seen after the day the equipment is brought home. By having access to this information, an employee can rediscover how to safely operate a particular piece of equipment.
An employer also can provide training for seasonal topics. As summer approaches, a good training topic could be the importance of sunscreen or water safety. In the fall before leaf cleanup begins, training the employees on ladder use and back safety can be helpful.
An OTJ safety program can pay dividends to all those involved, but it needs to be sustained and hold employee interest. This can be done best by including the employees and through constant reminders of the need to stay safe at all times.
KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe O’Connor edited this article.