Reducing injuries and accidents in any organization is a big task and requires a focused approach. For the best results, take the rifle approach to safety, not the shotgun approach. Through a concentrated analysis of your data, even with limited financial resources, you can determine how to best reduce your injuries.
First, analyze the data. Ask these types of questions.
- What types of losses are we experiencing?
- Which are most frequent?
- Which injuries cost the most?
- Where do these losses occur?
- How can we reduce these losses?
- Which losses should we focus on?
For example, you may have quite a few eye injuries, but you find they cost an average of $400 per injury. Your second or third most frequent loss may cost significantly more per claim, such as low-back injuries, which can average $7,500 or more per claim. In this case, it’s clear that targeting back injuries should be where you should begin.
Examine the location of losses. Perhaps falls occur most frequently in your parking lot during icy winter conditions. If so, you know that loss control efforts must be increased during times of inclement weather. If driving losses are hurting your bottom line, then implement more driver training or stricter driver policies.
In an organization where safety has not yet become a corporate value, the battle to reduce losses may be long-fought. Since money always talks to the financial personnel in top management, the best way to move your organization toward more cohesive safety efforts is to show them, in dollars, what losses are costing the organization.
Without strong management support, you must start small. In some cases, resistance may be so entrenched that it’s best to find one or two departments who will cooperate with safety efforts and start there. But proceed cautiously, because with most people, perception is reality. If your audience perceives a risk management policy or effort as unreasonable, it sets your risk management program back a big step when employees or other managers take up the chant to disparage your efforts. If you deliver a message in a way that managers and employees perceive as demeaning, employees will stop listening. Then when there’s a critically important issue, they have already tuned you out.
A large scientific research agency recently sponsored a safety campaign encouraging the use of handrails when climbing stairs. Employees stood at the top of the stairs and handed out candy bars to employees who used the banister as they traversed the stairwells. While this may be a great idea in some circumstances, it is probably not such a hot idea when you’re dealing with scientists such as those in this agency, with IQs roughly equivalent to their body weight.
Similar to the duct tape advice after the anthrax scare in 2003, few people felt safer or were more likely to listen to the Department of Homeland Security’s advice after that official recommendation. Words have power and it’s sometimes better to be silent than to pick the wrong words or the wrong issue and send a message that backfires.
Usually, the majority of supervisors and managers are willing to work more safely, so until there is more organizational buy-in to risk management, focus efforts on those who want to work with you. Most of the others will come along eventually. The numbers in the departments where safety is stressed will also, after a year or so, speak for themselves, and senior managers will take note.
If you as a manager are enthused about safety, you may assume that others are, as well. Generally, they aren’t. Campaigns like the great candy-bar giveaway may win a temporary battle because we feel we did something, but we lose the war because employees tune out the safety message. When setting our sites on safety, we have to aim carefully.