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New Year’s Resolution: Improve Employee Safety

January 14, 2015

ResolutionOSHA’s annual workplace fatalities report reveals that 4,405 workers were killed in 2013, which breaks down to approximately 85 individuals per week. Although this number seems alarmingly high, this was actually the fewest employee deaths in a year since the inception of the fatal injury census in 1992. I am looking forward to reading the 2014 report when it is released, as I am quite interested to know if this trend has continued.

That said, workplace injury and fatality statistics are a double-edged sword. We should certainly be encouraged by the progress made in reducing safety incidents, which suggests that many organizations are getting better at reducing exposure in the workplace. However, despite the efforts of many to reduce risk, it is clear that many organizations still have plenty of room to improve employee safety. A large portion of these deaths were preventable and likely occurred as a result of poor personal safety behaviors exhibited by individual workers. Because our goal should be zero deaths, 4,405 is still an unacceptable tally. So then what better time than the new year for managers to roll out new safety initiatives and strategies for the future?

If your New Year’s resolution at work is to improve your employees’ safety, the first thing to do is evaluate your 2014 safety records to gain an overall picture of the safety performance at your workplace. Some of you will be pleased to report no serious incidents and a consistent pattern of safety, so following through on this resolution could be rather simple. This may include identifying the areas on the job site where the few incidents you had took place, so that you can implement procedures to further reduce risk. Remember - every organization can improve its safety performance, even those with a strong safety record, so it is critical that safety leaders in these companies do not become complacent to employees’ daily safety behaviors after a substantial time without a serious incident.

On the other hand, some of you may be disappointed with your organization’s safety statistics, which can pose a larger challenge for those seeking to improve employee safety. We know that the SafetyDNATM of each individual worker is unique and fairly stable over time, but that the behaviors associated with each employee’s safety blind spots can be changed. Therefore, a high incident rate implies that some of your employees likely have high-risk SafetyDNA profiles, yet management has not taken the steps necessary to address the behaviors that are associated with these profiles. You may also be experiencing problems with your safety culture, specifically that the organization’s safety policies are either not implemented, not enforced, or not followed across sites or organizations organization, which could indicate issues with safety leadership.

Changing your company’s safety culture is no small task, but it is necessary if you hope to reduce your injury rates. The actual work here involves recognizing whether your safety procedures are adequate, whether employees are simply not following safety rules, or both so that you can address the core of the problem. The key component here is to demonstrate that employee safety is a priority to management, and that you are personally committed to improving your team’s safety performance.

The arrival of the new year provides a great opportunity for managers to ‘start fresh’ by introducing and enforcing new safety initiatives. Organizations that have experienced the gradual decline into poor safety performance often just need a jolt to reinforce safety principles to employees and remind them that the most important thing at the job site is everyone going home uninjured. We encourage you to take the challenge and make 2015 your company’s safest year yet!

hiring safe employees

Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.