Injuries in the workplace cost American companies billions of dollars every year. According to OSHA, it is estimated that employers spend 1 billion dollars a week on workers compensation costs in the United States. That is just the money going towards workers compensation. There are also costs that come from the days that injured employees miss work. Injuries and accidents that force injured employees to miss at least six days of work cost employers in the United States about 62 billion dollars a year.
What does that say about workplace culture?
Most workplaces do not have a safety culture implemented where safety is seen as a priority to both the managers of a company and the workers within the company. It is about changing the culture, not just changing the tool. In order to get to a place where fewer injuries and incidents are occurring, there must be a shift in the mindset of everyone who works for the company. Having workers follow the proper safety procedures and use safety tools and gear will not happen overnight. There is a learning curve that comes with safety tools and procedures, but there also has to be a willingness to change.
Many industrial and manufacturing workers have been using the same tools and performing the same tasks for decades. It can be difficult for them to change their attitudes about new safety tools and procedures. At Martor USA, we see some workers who are passionate about not using the safety knives we offer. They have used the same knife for 20 years; their father and grandpa used that knife. They know how to use that knife. It has been in their family for generations and they can’t see a reason to start fresh with a new knife. This is a common problem that safety managers run into when trying to get workers to use new safety tools.
It is important to know how much investing in safety programs can save a company money so that EHS managers can convince top level leaders of the organization to invest in safety. However, in order to combat a worker’s resistance of safety methods, any thoughts about how much money the company will save from safety measures need to be thrown out. Safety culture is not about money, it is about the health of every worker. It is about the family they go home to or the hobbies they enjoy in their free time. You will not be able to implement a safety culture effectively within your organization if saving money is the only goal.
How do you develop positive safety attitudes in a workplace environment where workers may not care about safety?
Here are 6 ways to implement a safety culture in the workplace:
- Top level managers should prioritize the health and safety of their workers.
An important part of any workplace culture is when workers feel like their company cares about them. Instead of making safety an issue about spending, it needs to be a health issue. We asked Peter Schmitz, Director of EHS Programs at Bemis Packaging Solutions, about the tactics he takes to dismantle negative feelings about safety culture. Peter recommended that organizations “make the message personal from the very top [of the organization], cascading downward.” He says you want each employee to go home every day to their family in the same or better condition than in which they arrived. If top level managers genuinely care about the safety of their workers and the workers are aware of that, the attitude towards safety will shift to a positive one. “Over time, even the most resistant individuals can be won over by having them realize that you really do care about their safety,” Schmitz added, continuing to stress the importance for managers and leaders to show workers how much they care for their safety.
- Dispel the negativity towards safety.
A good place to start is by finding the workers who are not interested in changing the tools and procedures they are comfortable with. That "pushback" and unwillingness to change is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Try showing workers examples of safety precautions they already follow but may not even think of as safety precautions. It may be safety gear they already use, such as gloves, or a safety precaution like cleaning up spilled liquids to prevent slip and falls. There are bound to be plenty of safety precautions these workers already follow. Point out the importance of those precautions and show workers how the new safety precautions being implemented are just as important for their safety as the existing ones.
- Take preventative safety measures.
Most companies begin making safety changes to the structure of their organization after an injury or incident has occurred. To be a safety leader in the manufacturing industry, you have to take a proactive approach. Do not learn safety because of an accident—avoid injuries before they happen. For example, if you are an EHS manager at a papermill, the workers in your organization most likely wear steel-toed shoes, eye protective gear, and ear protection because of previous accidents that were common decades ago. Go above and beyond by considering all the other accidents that could occur. Do research to find out about the accidents that have taken place in other papermills and the safety precautions they took in response. That may mean investing in safety knives or blade guards for saws. It is important to take safety precautions before incidents occur.
- Pinpoint early adopters or “anchor points of safety.”
Find leaders in the company to target and have them be anchor points for safety. Whether it is a manager or a popular employee that you think will easily adopt safety procedures, find someone you can trust that will be open to new methods and who will help with implementation. Once they are convinced that the new tools or methods will prevent company injuries, they can help implement it throughout the workplace. Their attitude towards safety will eventually spread to people who were resistant, because they will be a trusted testimonial.
- Celebrate and reward safety.
“Thank them for positive actions and celebrate safety achievements and milestones,” says Schmitz, stressing the importance of celebrating safety success. Many companies put up posters showing how many days it has been since an injury occurred. Even just thanking an employee for making the workplace safer can help. Promoting positive vibes around safety efforts will shift the overall mindset around safety.
- Include safety education in your safety training program.
Most safety training programs focus on training workers on how to use safety tools and teaching them the safety precautions for every application they are tasked with. However, it is also necessary to educate employees on the importance of safety. Walk them through the potential injuries that can occur and the danger of not following safety procedures. If they have a better understanding of why the safety procedures are so important, they are more likely to follow them.
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