Go the extra mile with employee safety

What does not washing your rental car have to do with safety?

On a recent trip I was on, as usual, I had a rental car. When I stopped to fill the car with gas before returning it, the gas pump said, “Would you like to add a car wash today?” At that point, I promptly pressed the “No” button. Then as I stood filling the gas, I looked down and thought if this was MY car, and was this dirty, I certainly would have washed it. That got me thinking how important ownership is. Without that sense of ownership, it really didn’t matter.

So it got me thinking that perhaps this is why so many companies have a difficult time getting their employees to buy into their safety and health programs. I have many employers tell me that they spend a lot of effort on developing safety and health programs and they can’t get their employees to use them. The key word here is “they.”

In most instances where I am called in to evaluate a company’s safety and health program, or provide competent person training based on a company’s adopted criteria, I find that more often than not the employees are seeing or hearing about the company’s adopted plan for the first time.

If they are hearing about it for the first time, then they certainly don’t have any prior ownership in it — much like me and my rental car. Why would I spend my time, resources or energy washing something that I had no ownership interest in?

Nevada requires every employer with 11 or more employees to have a written workplace safety program. If you have more than 25 employees, you must have a safety committee as well. I think any responsible employer should have a written workforce safety program, and no matter how lacking in structure it is, I think there should be a safety committee that comprises members from both labor and management. It is critical that management be represented in order to show commitment to the process.

The safety committee should have some charge; in other words, some purpose for its existence and purpose should be written down so the committee knows what it should be doing. That could be something simple like:

Promote the safety of employees in the workplace

Education of employees, managers and supervisors through training programs

Provide a forum for the free discussion of health and safety issues in the workplace

Educate employees, managers and supervisors that THEY are responsible for the safety of employees in the workplace

Work to reduce the number of accidents and injuries in the workplace

Help draft and update a safety and health program to ensure compliance with national and state safety standards

Encouraging near-miss reporting and its importance in keeping a safe workplace

Once you have that framework, you must decide the makeup of the committee. It should include representatives both from your employee pool and from management and the size can depend on the size of your organization.

Safety committees can be as small as two people or as large as 10-15. The key thing to remember is that the establishment of a safety committee speaks volumes to your workforce that you take their safety seriously and want their input and participation in making the workplace a safe environment.

There are no better consultants to an effective safety and health program than the employees that work for you. They know what all the dangers are, or will tell you if you help identify some of the root causes: falls, caught in between, electrocution, struck by. The nice thing is that once they have identified them, and they have evaluated and helped identify the hazards and how to best deal with them, they will OWN the policy and your injury rate will fall.

Doing this means nothing complicated, nothing costly and nothing difficult.

Your employees will look at your safety policy with a sense of ownership, not like I did with my rental car. Ownership gets you buy in. But your efforts have to be sincere.

The safety committee must be granted time during work in which to meet and conduct their business. Management must encourage the committee to actually take action and make suggestions. Once the committee does that, management must make a commitment to follow up and implement the safety committee’s recommendations.

To ignore the recommendations of the safety committee would not only demotivate the committee and the entire workforce, but would even result in disinterest and detachment from safety policies the employer does want enforced.

Employee safety means big things for employers in motivation, cost savings and insurance premiums. A little initiative and respect go a long way. Don’t leave your safety program looking like a rental car.

John Skowronek is the owner of Square One in Solutions in Reno.


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