The days that safety — and, by extension, workers compensation — were the purview of some folks off in some out-of-the-way corner are long gone for most savvy companies.
Instead, companies large and small are moving toward what loss-control specialists have termed “the new culture of safety,” says Dave Quezada, vice president of loss control at Reno-based Employers, a workers compensation carrier that writes policies in 31 states.
Organizations in businesses as diverse as commercial fishing and emergency-medical services have used the term in recent years to describe a new focus on safety that begins, every day, with top executives.
Any corporate culture is created at the top, Quezada says, and the “new culture of safety” is no different. A consistent example in the executive suite of big companies or the manager’s office of a small outfit sets the tone across the organization.
A key: Steps to balance the technical requirements of safety — safe workplace practices, the right equipment — with the right kinds of coaching and leadership.
Barrick Gold Corp., the Toronto-based company that’s the largest gold producer in Nevada, has been fine-tuning what it calls its “Courageous Safety Leadership” program.
The program provides inspirational, people-focused training to managers — even the CEO attends training sessions — and it’s been credited with creation of a culture that led to a 65 percent reduction in reportable accidents across the company.
Quezada says the focus on creation of a new culture of safety reflects the growing realization at many companies that safety brings a return on investment.
“You can reduce turnover,” he says. “You can reduce absenteeism.”
For larger companies, improved safety performance and reduction of injury claims can pay off in reduced workers compensation premiums. Those premiums reflect loss experience, typically over the previous four years.
Denver-based Newmont Mining, another major good producer in Nevada, specifically sets out to demonstrate return on investment from its safety programs.
“Safety is not an icon, mounted on a pedestal, to be revered,” Newmont says in a statement of its corporate values. “It requires a considerable investment of time and resources and is expected to deliver an average rate of return.”
Some of the payoff from a culture of safety are difficult to measure.
Barrick executives, for instance, firmly believe that their company’s safety program helps it recruit and retain top talent.
Quezada says the costs of an inadequate safety program also can be difficult to track — sort of like an iceberg in which the direct financial outlay is only the small portion that’s immediately visible.
Other costs, he says, include increased turnover as well as the costs of training a worker to replace an employee who was injured.
With its focus on workers compensation coverage for small businesses, Employers works closely with many entrepreneurs who are wearing many hats — including that of safety directors.
Those entrepreneurs work closely with their insurance agents, their workers comp carriers and informational sources such as OSHA to find the expertise they may not have on their own.
Effective small-business safety programs, Quezada says, don’t rely on one-shot educational efforts. Instead, they incorporate daily safety checks into the operation. They recognize that anything new — a new employee, a new process, a new piece of equipment — requires fresh safety training.
“It begins with Day 1 for each employee,” he says. “It becomes an ingrained part of the organization.”