Taking safety seriously is not just an ethical decision: It’s a business one. Not having a strong safety program, skimping on equipment or relying on insurance to cover the cost of accidents will catch up with you and your bottom line in the long term.
Travis Post has seen first-hand the human and financial impacts of failing to mandate safety rules. He had to have part of his left leg amputated after an avoidable incident on a construction site when he was 17.
Travis later returned to the family-owned construction company he had been working for when he was injured, working on the safety team. He is now the Corporate Safety Director at a different construction company, Petersen-Dean, in Fremont, California.
Having learned the hard way why safety procedures matter on the ground, Travis now understands the impact they can have on business too.
People getting hurt at work is unavoidable in certain high-risk industries. But there are steps you can take to minimize the number of injuries your company has to pay for every year. Worker compensation isn’t much for an injured employee to live on, but it’s a major expense for a business.
Based on an episode of the No Accident podcast, here’s why a strong safety program is such a significant cost-saver, the difference between a hazardous and dangerous work environment, and how to convince employees to invest in your safety protocols.
Safety Protects Profits as Well as People
Business leaders sometimes make the mistake of thinking that saving money on safety equipment and procedures is an effective cost-cutting strategy. However, in the long term, it will eat into already narrow margins, and cost more money.
The more employees who are injured on the job, the more workers compensation the business is required to payout. This can run between $35,000 to $50,000 for common injuries, Travis says, to millions for major ones.
This cost is often passed on to customers. In the case of construction companies, it raises the price of bids, which can make your bid less competitive. Travis has seen companies miss out on jobs over price differences as small as $50.
Unfortunately, Travis says that some construction companies use this to justify skimping on safety equipment. He’s seen companies allow workers to work on sites without appropriate PPE and fall protection, in the name of undercutting other bids.
Ultimately, spending on safety is more effective when it comes to your profits. Investing in an active and diligent strong safety program reduces the number of workplace injuries, which in turn means paying less in workers’ compensation.
Some business leaders believe that having job site insurance is a good enough replacement for a safety process. They think that if someone is injured on the job, the insurance they’re already paying for will cover the costs, without them also having to fund a strong safety program.
But in fact, Travis explains, if you can’t prove that you’re trying to reduce accidents and improve safety, the insurance company will simply keep raising your premiums.
In short, taking measures to prevent accidents costs more upfront, but it saves you money in the long term.
Hazardous vs. Dangerous Environments
In the world of safety, there’s an important difference between a hazardous and a dangerous environment. It’s one that showcases the importance of taking proactive steps to protect your workers.
A dangerous environment is one where there are many potential ways someone can get hurt, and where no one has made any effort to mitigate those dangers. In a hazardous environment, people are taking steps to diminish the potential for injury.
For example, construction sites necessarily involve the potential for injury, more so than, say, an office. There’s heavy equipment, sharp tools, and often a lot of noise that makes it hard to communicate clearly if something goes wrong.
However, construction sites don’t have to be dangerous environments, if you introduce protective gear and policies to help reduce those risks. For example:
- Workers must be certified to use heavy equipment and must follow clearly defined steps designed to protect themselves and others.
- Only workers trained to use tools safely are allowed to use them and must wear appropriate PPE when they do.
- Everyone on the site is taught how to communicate important instructions nonverbally so that even when it’s noisy, everyone can understand each other.
- All workers are taught the importance of safety procedures, held accountable for their own and each other’s safety, and are disciplined if they don’t follow the rules.
Certain jobs are inherently risky. By implementing a robust and strong safety program, you can make sure they aren’t dangerous.
Employees Must Buy Into Safety
You can devise the most thorough safety program possible, and it will still fail to prevent accidents if the people in charge of implementing it on a day-to-day basis aren’t motivated to do so.
Travis recommends an approach he calls employee-based safety. It combines education with influencing behavior and requires 100% employee buy-in.
To achieve that, businesses should actively involve employees in safety policies and processes.
For example, if you choose PPE without asking the people who are going to be wearing it all day for their input, you’re likely to run into issues with them refusing to wear it later. If you ask workers what they want from their PPE and involve them in the decision, they’re less likely to find fault and more likely to comply.
It’s not just about collaboration. You also have to lay down the law, Travis says.
Safety professionals are used to being greeted with eye-rolls and heckles when they try to talk to big groups of employees.
Travis has three approaches to this skepticism:
- Remind people about what’s at stake. Not just their bodies and lives, but their livelihood. Injuries can lay people out of work for months, and sometimes permanently. Workers’ compensation is not equivalent to the money you can make from a regular job.
- Have employees who were injured on the job tell their stories. The importance of safety protocols hits harder when you’re hearing it from someone who was injured because they didn’t follow the rules. Travis sometimes uses his own injury to make this point to workers and has other people tell their stories to drive the point home.
- Track violations. Don’t just track the number of accidents: track violations of safety protocols, and how many hours workers spend learning first aid and in safety sessions. This will highlight who is ignoring the rules, and who needs to go through more training.
Remember, workers, don’t want to be told how to do their jobs by a person they perceive as detached from their reality. It comes down to respect, which you earn by involving them in decision-making, and by showing there are consequences for those who put themselves and others at risk.
This article is based on an episode of the No Accident podcast.