Given an unlimited budget, it would be easy to dramatically cut the incidence of occupational injuries. But in the real world, other legitimate interests compete for those dollars. As a safety director, how can you fulfill your fundamental responsibilities while also keeping an eye on the bottom line?

With a team approach, you can obtain the best quality, highest performance personal protective equipment (PPE) for your facility while also controlling operating costs.

It’s true that priorities sometimes differ among the in-house personnel who must work together to provide safety equipment, including the purchasing department. An outside safety specialist often can help to get everyone on the same page by matching equipment to application, allocating limited resources, and discovering ways to prevent or recover lost work time. In this role, a full-service safety distributor who represents hundreds of manufacturers can lend a fresh perspective, creating a vital dynamic that previously was missing. Suddenly, the in-house parties are free to move from working at cross-purposes to functioning as members of a team—the same team.

Whether serving as a mediator or a motivator, an effective outside safety specialist will continuously refocus the in-house team members on prioritizing and being proactive rather than reactive. While the specialist’s knowledge of PPE products and technology certainly adds value to the process, it may be secondary to his or her role in identifying and drawing out the critical issues and identifying solutions that work for everyone.

Prioritizing safetyIn 2006, U.S. workers sustained 1,183,500 occupational injuries causing lost workdays, and 5,703 workplace injuries that led to fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Many of these accidents could have been prevented by the appropriate use of protective equipment. The costs, including lost wages, medical expenses, administrative and employer costs, environmental expenses and repair costs, averaged $38,000 per incident and $1.19 million per fatality in 2005, according to the National Safety Council.

Contrast these costs with your company’s budget for PPE, and you may well conclude that an ounce of preventive action is worth a great deal, particularly since in the case of fatalities, there is no “pound of cure.”

The essential first step: A facility safety snalysisA comprehensive analysis of your plant’s safety program will include a thorough review of:
  • All PPE and safety procedures currently in place
  • OSHA mandates and non-mandatory compliance guidelines
  • The current state-of-the-art in safety practices for your industry
  • Candid input from workers and management
  • Recommendations for what PPE, policies, and procedures to retain, and what to change

But do you or others in your facility really have the knowledge, time, and objectivity to conduct this kind of thorough study? Many companies are finding that an outside safety specialist can assess potential risks efficiently, objectively, and in a manner that is acceptable to all stakeholders.

Sometimes the results are surprising. An unbiased safety review may reveal that for a given application, less protection, not more, is required for the safe completion of the task. Operator input can be essential to choosing PPE that increases worker comfort and reduces fatigue; such choices will improve productivity, decrease the risk of accidents, and raise morale.

Some full-service safety equipment distributors offer their customers a facility analysis that includes written equipment recommendations and even in-house training on its proper use, all at no charge.

The safety director’s perspectiveIn your role as safety director, your prime responsibilities are to prevent injury and to comply with the personal protective equipment standards mandated by OSHA. Just convincing workers to wear the appropriate PPE consistently can represent a major hurdle.

Moreover, matching the proper PPE to a specific work task and environment is seldom a simple matter. There can be thousands of types of protective gloves, footwear, or head and face protection on the market at one time, and even hundreds for a given application or within a desired price range. This is another area where an outside expert can add enormous value by helping to determine a range of products that will provide the appropriate level of protection, durability, practicality, and return on dollars spent.

Then, you and your safety team can consult with the true experts: those who actually do the work. Operators who have been consulted about PPE choices and have been able to evaluate form, fit, and function, are more likely to comply by actually using the items as recommended.

The purchasing director’s perspectiveAs in all areas of the business, the safety program must be designed with an eye to cost control. A purchasing director’s worst nightmare is excess inventory that consumes resources and chips away at the bottom line. In this area, the comprehensive facility safety analysis can have a major impact. Often, a company that has been stocking several different styles of a PPE item finds that they can be replaced with a single, more versatile style.

Another outcome — and benefit — of the team approach could be the implementation of an on-site safety center. This is essentially a “safety store” and training center that is staffed and stocked by a full-service safety distributor. The safety store fits and dispenses items ranging from respirators to protective eyewear. Think of it: you can eliminate processing time for purchase orders, receiving, and sourcing spot buys. You will no longer need to maintain in-house inventory.

No one manufacturer will be able to provide the best product for every application. A safety distributor will be able to suggest a variety of options for every need, and then train your employees in the proper use and care of their PPE.

Bridge the gapA facility audit by a safety professional could bridge the gap between preventing injuries and reducing safety equipment costs. By developing an integrated relationship between your department, purchasing, and an outside safety expert, you can protect your company’s most valuable asset—its workers—while also boosting the bottom line.

Ted Cowie is president of Safety Today, Inc. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, USA, and Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Safety Today is one of the largest full-service safety equipment distributors in North America. They offer worker protection products (PPE) and services including safety training and consulting, safety equipment repair and calibration, customer-specific procurement solutions, onsite safety centers and supplier-managed inventory systems. Their mission is to protect workers and their workspace environment in key markets including steel, automotive, glass, food processing, fleet, general manufacturing, service industries, and more. For more information or a free safety audit, call 800-837-5900 (U.S.) or 800-263-1251 (CDN).