A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

In 1989, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued voluntary guidelines for safety and health program management. The guidelines were based on the elements common to all programs used by successful participants of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program. Ever since its release, OSHA and safety professionals alike have referenced these ele-ments. They are management commitment and employee involvement, hazard evaluation, hazard control and training. Another name given to the guidelines is the Four-Point Plan. Although much attention has been given to the details comprising the elements, unfortunately not much has been written on the program costs, execution and delivery.

Management commitment and employee involvement appear as number one. This does not necessarily mean step one. It is true it is necessary to be effective. However, action must be taken to win support. Taking no action before achieving this is not an option. The hazards present must be known. An attempt must be made to implement controls and provide training with whatever support and funding is available. In addition, a plan should be developed showing what the costs will be for a comprehensive program. Once these are in place, management can see the investment of personnel time and equipment required.

Of course, you will need to compare costs with the savings. One benefit of taking action prior to securing a full commitment is the possibility of showing an actual return on investment (ROI), such as accidents or fines avoided by the limited effort possible with the current support and funds. If you are unable to get an investment up front, bring in your plan showing costs. Offer management a com-parison to estimated savings. OSHA’s Web site provides calculations for safety payoffs in module one of its Safety & Health Management Systems e-tool.

The collective effort to put a plan in place, demonstrate a positive ROI and gain support cannot be stressed enough. Consider the ba-sics. Work returns money or profits, but work often involves hazards. Protecting workers from hazards is critical. Without work, there is no money. Therefore, hazards must be controlled without eliminating work or profit. Getting everyone to understand this and devel-oping a profitable safety plan is key to being effective.

Point One of the Four-Point Plan is management commitment and employee involvement.

The employee perception

The reference to everyone includes employees. Just as demonstrating the ROI to management will gain its commitment, showing em-ployees that safety is an integral part of their paycheck will get their involvement. Commitment and involvement go hand in hand. Man-agement must commit by allowing time for safety. Employees must know that this time will not increase pressure to perform in order to maintain their paycheck. Involvement in training, performing safety inspections of their work and participating in safety committees or other safety activities will naturally occur when these are used by management as a measure of an employee’s work responsibilities. No reasonable person wants to be injured.

To build a profitable safety program that management and employees will support, costs must not exceed the savings. This should not be difficult, as studies have shown there is a $4 to $6 return for every dollar invested in safety and health. Still, each person develop-ing a program must make sure actions taken are cost effective. Reviewing the Four-Point Plan and determining efficient means for com-pleting tasks can accomplish this.

Using Point Two, hazard analysis, there are a number of methods that can be employed to reduce costs.

Software applications such as the online NECA eSafetyLine Safety Expert System offer checklists and a recordkeeping application for tracking injuries and illnesses. Standardized checklists minimize the time needed to assess hazards in the workplace. Checklists as found in the NECA eSafetyLine palpation provide greater focus on industry-related hazards. Record-keeping applications can generate summary reports of accident types and causes. This will expose problems that exist in your company.

Resources for safety

Companies that do not have the benefit of this type of application, or who do not have a history and are developing new programs, can rely on general industry data for analysis. OSHA statistics on most frequently cited standards and injuries and illnesses specific to the electrical industry can be found on the OSHA Web site statistics and data page. Both focus on known industry hazards and reduce time spent on analysis. The most frequently cited stats reveal hazards OSHA typically finds when inspecting a given industry. When searching this applica-tion, you can focus on a given geographic area as well as the industry. For the statistics on injuries and illness, OSHA’s Web site links to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here you can find injury causation statistics and summary data by industry as well as other criteria.

Point Three, hazard control, requires companies to implement procedures and programs that reduce or eliminate hazards.

No one needs waste much time on the creation of programs. Program templates and best practices are readily available. Almost every national trade association has safety manuals for their members’ use. Some also offer safety sites with a message board where members can submit safety program questions and share practices.

To make efficient use of this material, quickly review the templates and edit as needed. Companies with limited staffing can dele-gate program setup and/or editing to clerical personnel. Applications offer compliance guides, which provide step-by-step instruc-tions on program development and use of the templates. As is common to most organizations, these individuals are equipped to orga-nize the paperwork, distribute materials for the tasks to be performed and track completion of the same.

Teamwork for safety

Regardless of staffing levels, maximize the use of each person’s time by distributing responsibilities. Clerical or administrative person-nel can best use their time to work on the paperwork. Supervisor and safety personnel expertise is better spent in the field. Neither need be displaced from their regular duties to execute safety tasks. A supervisor who is already inspecting job progress and quality can easily check off safety concerns in their review without expending much more time.

Point Four is training. There are a number of ways to attack training cost effectively.

The age-old safety tailgate or toolbox talk is number one. Brief, on-the-job training talks reduce downtime. They also are readily available at a minimal cost. The talks often use an industry accident to highlight what can go wrong and how to avoid it. Companies should use this concept for developing safety talks or discussions of their own on personal experiences or incidents.

Keeping talks to a 10- to 15-minute session also allows instruction to focus on one or two concepts at a time. This should yield greater comprehension and retention on the part of the employees. It also minimizes disruption of production. This is especially true if attention is given to scheduling. A great deal of time is lost to assembling workers. Take advantage of time periods used to gather em-ployees for other tasks. Offering training as employees gather for the distribution of paychecks, at the beginning of the week before job assignments are made or at the end of a coffee break before returning to work are just a few examples. Of course, each company needs to determine what times are most appropriate. The coffee break period works only when all workers assemble in a single location for their break.

Other options exist for increasing the efficiency of training. One is to break it down into knowledge and skill training. Concepts that are knowledge based can be given through

computer-based training applications or self-study programs. Most individuals can read through instructional material or progress rapidly through computer training, absorbing safety concepts easily. Learning that fall protection is required at 6 feet or above is an example of a concept that is appropriate for this type of training. Supervisors and/or safety professionals can perform a quick knowl-edge check prior to allowing employees to proceed with work. Skill training, such as how to don a personal fall arrest harness, can be taught in the field by the company safety professional or by assigning the employee to a mentor who will offer on-the-job skill training.

Remember, don’t wait to take action on safety. Start with any point in the Four-Point Plan. For the purpose of gaining management support and implementing a cost-effective program, lay out a plan for management. Show management a safety program can be cost effective and profitable. The best program will be one that incorporates all four points of OSHA’s plan, especially management com-mitment. Safety must come from the top down and get support from the base: employees.

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.

About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@inte...

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