Managing Safety in the Workplace: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Managing Safety in the Workplace: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Traditionally, workplace safety has been the sole jurisdiction of safety and health professionals. However, due to the critical nature of the safety function and its impact on organization costs, it is better viewed as the joint responsibility of several functions, including Operations, Human Resources, Finance, and Risk Management.

Although the safety professional is often held accountable for workplace safety, the reality is that they do not exercise control over employee compliance with workplace procedures, production, insurance coverage and employee benefits, or medical coverage. Collectively, these functions represent the culture of an organization; professionals responsible for these functions must work together to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees. Looking at how each of the functions works can help you to better manage overall safety in your organization.

Safety and Operations

Today’s manufacturing processes have become quite complicated in an effort to improve both quality and efficiency. Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and numerous technological innovations have changed the way the employers hire, develop, and communicate with their workforce. Conversely, the innovations have the potential to introduce new and more sophisticated risks, hazards, and exposures into the workplace. Management should include the safety professional in the development of programs and procedures designed to minimize employee safety exposures. The best method for achieving this is to include the safety professional in each step of the process from the design phase to the installation of equipment. Enforcing workplace safety and health procedures is the primary responsibility of the operations organization. This too should be done with the assistance and guidance of the safety department so as to ensure timely and effective communications, training, and administrative techniques that send the right safety message to all employees. Safety management must be considered an integral part of the overall management of a successful organization.

Safety and Human Resources

Safety and Human Resources have been partners in providing a safe workplace in many organizations in numerous business sectors. This partnership has included employee communications, training, medical services,workers’ compensation, and writing and implementing safety-related policies and procedures. In developing safety communications for the employees, the safety topics must be consistent with the organization’s overall goals and objectives and not separate messages. Coordination of the safety training program with both HR and Operations is essential for the success of the program—although the safety professional may conduct the actual training, scheduling, and coordination. Ensuring that all employees required to participate do so is a shared responsibility.

Safety and Risk Management

The actual workers’ compensation program is typically not managed by the safety professional. However, there is a strong relationship between safety, HR, and operations in this area to address OSHA illness and injury reporting requirements, and then employee compensation arrangements. Workers’ compensation is either managed by risk management within a company’s overall risk portfolio, or within HR under the benefits portfolio, depending on the organizational philosophy. Risk managers and/or HR professionals make decisions on placement of insurance, coverage terms and limits usually within the context of the portfolio they are managing and within the laws of states in which the organization operates. But beyond what is needed on paper to manage safety, it is truly managed “on the floor.” A safety manager who is deeply involved in workers’ compensation management cannot have time to mitigate the risks employees take in their daily work.

Safety and the Balance Sheet

The relationship between the safety professional and the financial and risk management departments is also key to identifying and controlling work-related injury and illness costs. In its 2007 Workplace Safety Index, Liberty Mutual estimated that employers paid almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs for the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2005. And according to the American Society of Safety Engineers, for every $1 invested in an effective workplace safety program, $4 to $6 may be saved as illnesses, injuries, and fatalities decline.

Safety professionals need to establish and maintain a strong working relationship with the entire financial organization, from the chief financial officer to the risk manager, to be positioned to explain these cost effects and truly have a positive impact on the financial implications of the safety and health program.

For extensive information on the financial impact of effectively managing workplace risks, go to www.osha.gov and type “Making the Business Case for Safety and Health” in the search field.

Conclusion

Integrated management of safety in today’s complicated workplace environments is an integral part of any successful business. Today’s financial analysts are emphasizing the importance of a company’s people or “human capital” as a driver of business growth, productivity, and financial return. Human capital is best viewed along the employment continuum—from attracting the right employees, to preventing liability with strong safety and health programs, to keeping employees healthy and committed, to retaining key talent, to enabling retirement.

Risks do not exist in isolation. Mismanagement along the continuum results in excessive human capital risk. Most organizations can do more to effectively manage safety, and a holistic approach ensures the highest return on investment in this process. Start identifying solutions in your organization by utilizing your safety and health professionals’ expertise to their fullest capacity. Their collaboration can go a long way to assuring worker safety and health, thus adding value to your organization.

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