How do you handle managers who are reluctant to take time for safety, or who don't understand its value to their organization?

Management often resists safety program expenditures due to a lack of understanding and communication regarding their organization's safety needs. You must express these needs in a language or a value system that they understand.

Creative selling is sometimes needed. The answers to the seven questions here are based on strategies that I have used. Some have succeeded and some I'm still working on. I'm now at the corporate safety level supporting more than a dozen manufacturing facilities. They all have two things in common: the sites must comply with regulatory requirements; and they don't have extra cash, people or time to do it.

1) What's the cost?

Some managers understand workers' compensation costs. Put your insurance company to work for you. Tabulate the number of workers' compensation cases that are still active and for what reason. Determine when the cases occurred, and which insurance company was in place at the time. Work with your insurance representative to close out those cases. Quantify the reserve dollars and the actual costs for each injury or accident. Demonstrate to management the savings over time with the reduction of these cases.

2) What do you need from me?

  • Among other things, safety professionals need management to provide resources to conduct systematic incident investigation training, and to implement procedures for timely and consistent reporting of workplace injuries and near misses. The diagnosis of specific injuries or illnesses such as carpal tunnel, tendonitis or dermatitis on insurance claim forms automatically triggers large reserves of claim dollars while the injured employee seeks treatment. This in turn drives up your workers' compensation insurance costs.

  • Supervisors who complete incident reports must be trained to report symptoms or conditions, such as wrist pain or skin irritation. Leave a medical diagnosis to the medical professionals.

  • Manufacturing facilities need to establish preferred medical providers for their employees.

    3) Why contract with an occupational health provider when our employees have their own insurance coverage?

  • Establishing a preferred medical provider with a local occupational health clinic ultimately reduces medical costs and time away from work. A selected medical provider will visit the facility and become familiar with job tasks, employee roles and chemicals used on site. A contracted physician will be less likely to pull an employee off the job for a minor injury than the employee's personal doctor who has no knowledge of the facility or its processes.

  • Employers can defray medical costs by covering the small medical expenses associated with an occupational health provider, rather than the personal physician incurring workers' compensation insurance.

  • An occupational health professional will be instrumental in setting up a light-duty or return-to-work program.

    4) Why put employees out on the floor who can't give 100 percent?

    Bringing employees back early who are on the mend - whether it's workers' compensation or disability cases - adds value to your organization. Bringing back previously ill or injured employees reduces workers' compensation and disability costs. The light-duty program emphasizes management's value of their human resource and the importance of each employee. Return-to-work programs enhance employee well-being by accommodating their condition and maximizing their productivity, while setting a positive example for other employees.

    5) How are you measuring performance?

    Some manufacturing facilities measure performance in terms of zero defect, or process control. Plot your safety incidents on a control chart. Is the recordable or lost-time accident frequency within the upper and lower control limits? Is there a trend upward or downward? If you have enough data points, you can plot safety performance by department.

    Demonstration of an "out of control" process, or an upward trend, can often justify process improvements, which might be resource intensive. Sometimes a process excellence coach in Six Sigma will be assigned to the problem, and the safety professional can obtain both intellectual and physical resources to correct the process deficiency.

    6) Can you give me a cost-saving example?

    In an injection molding operation where I was the plant safety and environmental manager, employees were experiencing dozens of lacerations. They used open razor blades to trim the flash off plastic parts, and were not wearing cut-resistant gloves or sleeves. The basic cause was easily corrected with additional personal protective equipment, a variety of enclosed deburring tools selected by the employees, and revised procedures for flash removal.

    The root cause was associated with the plastic injection molding machine and the type of plastic resin used. Correcting this problem resulted in reduced labor costs, less rework, lower utility costs and increased customer satisfaction. It was a win-win scenario for safety and manufacturing.

    7) Why should we spend on ergonomics when we haven't had any ergonomic injuries?

    This is a difficult, and unfortunately, common question among management. Sweeping ergonomic improvements can be costly, while returns are not always immediately measurable. The answer is not, "Because OSHA says so," although industry-specific ergonomic guidelines are available for hospitals, poultry processing and furniture manufacturing.

    The fact that about one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses stem from over-exertion or repetitive motion helps gain management support for ergonomic improvements. Visit the following Web site for industry-specific ergonomic information:

    The best approach is to be proactive. Design in ergonomics ahead of time. Some industries can take advantage of downsizing and asset allocation and obtain low-cost ergonomic furniture. Some safety professionals may succeed with ergonomic improvements on a department-by-department basis, or unfortunately, as a response to specific ergonomic injuries. Effective managers know that comfortable employees are more productive and add greater value to an organization, which is what we strive to provide as safety professionals.

    The best business case answers for safety improvements don't always come easy. It's best to appeal through management's value system and the metrics managers use to measure performance. Understand your management and manufacturing processes. Assign value to your safety improvements. Convince your managers that these improvements support and streamline manufacturing efforts and provide value to your organization.