"The same managers who were tickled to death with the injury reductions a few years ago are now trying to tell me that those reductions would have happened with or without behavioral safety," said Don. His site had an OSHA incidence rate of about 9.0 during most of the 1980s. The behavioral safety process was started in 1989, and the rate was below 2.0 from 1995 through 1997.
Don's experience sheds light on management's mindset when cost-cutting begins. Here's where your safety and health program might be vulnerable:
ConsultantsThere is always some animosity directed at consultants because it seems they're making so much money. And when it comes to behavioral safety, at any location there will be some managers who dislike the process. With cost cutting they see their opportunity.
StaffDon's company cut its safety and industrial hygiene headcount in half. Simple as that.
Hazard recognitionIt's common to cut employee involvement programs such as hazard recognition because identified hazards need to be corrected, and that's money management might not want to spend.
RepairsFor example, at a chemical plant there are always small vessels being relocated or pumps being moved. Some type of cement footings usually remain after the move. But the cost to have a maintenance person remove them might not be allowed during cost-cutting.
Hazard reportingWatch hazard reporting by employees fall off as they realize repairs aren't being made. Reporting hazards becomes a waste of time.
Safety meetingsMeetings are vulnerable, especially if they require overtime for employees to attend.
Safety fairsEvents like these can be discontinued. Although their safety value is minor, it is still one more way to keep up employee awareness.
TrainingOften this is one of the first items to be removed from a budget.
Personal Protective EquipmentPPE will continue to be provided, but it might not be as accessible. An employee may only get a new pair of gloves if he or she has the old pair to exchange. Employees will use the poor availability of PPE as an excuse to stop wearing it. There's also the risk of using PPE that is contaminated or in need of repair.
Awards and prizesRecognition programs for a job well done in safety can be dropped. Since the profitability of a good safety record is not easily identified, incentives are an easy target.
What can you do?Management needs to think about long-term consequences when contemplating safety budget cuts. Discontinuing a hazard recognition program, safety meetings, or a behavioral process may not immediately cause injuries to increase, but the rate will go up in the long run.
Think about it. Putting off maintenance and repair work eventually creates a housekeeping nightmare. Some day the plant will become so cluttered a huge effort will be needed to remove all the small hazards that have accumulated.
Discontinuing meetings and training will naturally hurt safety communication and awareness. Concerns and problems will not be aired. This can all have a snowball effect. Employees become disinterested. Hazards go unreported and left unfixed. Injuries follow.
The damage that is caused to employee involvement may never be repaired. Employees who participated in safety programs such as behavioral observations or hazard recognition may never be coaxed into participating again.
Don's plant went from a 1.2 incidence rate to 5.9 in a 12-month period. Don was moved back to shift work when the behavioral process was dropped. He was so disgusted that he doesn't even stay in touch with his old friends in safety. I lost a friend, and his company lost a proactive safe employee who cared about his and his co-workers' safety.
Bob Brown is founder of the consulting firm Blue Collar Safety (281-480-1076) and a behavioral training coordinator for a leading Fortune 500 chemical company.