Occupational health and safety is an important concern for every workplace. Not only is it paramount for the well-being of both workers and the company, but having an effective program in place is required for meeting OSHA regulations.
And yet, anyone in charge of a company's safety program is very familiar with budgetary restrictions. Part of a safety professional's job is learning how to allocate every dollar carefully.
But there's a big difference between spending carefully and underspending. The six items covered in this article might not be as obviously necessary as fall harnesses or hi-vis vests, but they shouldn't be left off the budget.
1. Wearable Technology
Technology has infiltrated nearly every part of our lives – and it's time safety programs get on board, too.
Research suggests that more than a third of manufacturers are already collecting data using of smart sensors, which they can then draw on to improve both operational procedures and efficiency (for related reading, see Predictive Modeling and Its Role in Safety Prevention on the Job Site). As technology continues to improve and become more affordable, the possibilities for what we can do are nearly endless.
Here are a few of our favorite wearable technology applications:
- Wearable devices for video and voice calling
- Helmets and face masks with connected technology
- GPS tracking on safety equipment
- Sensors that can monitor worker exposure to hazards like gases and excessive noise
It’s not something most people think about when planning a health and safety program, but ergonomic problems are one of the leading causes of non-fatal injuries in the workplace. And it’s not isolated to any particular industry; it affects manufacturing, service, and office workers.
A study that examined the costs and benefits of ergonomic interventions in the workplace found a significant overall difference and financial benefits for companies that applied ergonomic principles to their facilities, workstation designs, work practices, and production processes. Experts recommend investing in software that tracks and trends injury and illness data, which will allow you to identify and begin to manage ergonomic problems. Ergonomic injuries are often a precursor to chronic conditions that result in high rates of lost work time, so it’s important to resolve them in the early stages (learn about the Top Ergonomics Issues in the Workplace).
Employee training can be an effective way of managing this issue, as well. Training should emphasize how workers can help protect their health. Office workers, for example, should be given the following advice:
- Ensure your legs reach the ground while at your workstation
- Use a wrist rest
- Position your monitor so that you do not need to crane your neck, eyes, or back
- Use lumbar support
- Take regular stretch breaks to break up the time spent sitting at your desk
(For more advice, see Is Your Desk Job Killing You?)
3. Continuing Education for Workers
Education is one of the keys to reducing workplace safety incidents. But it’s critical that initial employee training be followed up by continuing education at regular intervals to ensure the knowledge sticks. Monthly emails can help keep workers up to date, though face-to-face check-ins and training sessions should also be part of the safety program.
Struggling to engage your employees in training? Try hands-on activities that require employee participation. They're not as boring as staring at PowerPoint slides and they'll help workers better retain the information.
4. Safety Process Software
Estimates suggest that about 45 percent of time dedicated to occupational safety is spent on administrative work. Investing in software that takes care of the paperwork and data tracking for you means that your safety professionals can spend their time on, well, safety.
Being able to report data quickly and from any device means that your employees can be more engaged (for example, by reporting near misses) and improves the accuracy of the information collected.
(Trouble convincing the executives? Check out Top 3 Objections to EHS Software and What They Get Wrong to come prepared with a strong case.)
5. Leadership Development
Workplace health and safety isn’t just about the employees; it takes strong, engaged leadership to create a culture of safety and ensure that safety processes are working. It’s not enough to have a safety professional design and implement a program; employers must be committed to providing ongoing support and training for senior safety personnel.
Run through this checklist to get an idea of where your leadership currently stands with respect to workplace health and safety.
- Do all leaders take an active role in health and safety around the workplace?
- Does the workplace have effective communication regarding safety?
- Does the safety committee include both workers and managers?
- Does the organization have a high-ranking safety officer?
- Do organizational leaders have a participatory leadership style?
- Does organizational leadership embrace lagging and leading indicators to proactively address potential health and safety issues?
- Do leaders “walk the walk” when it comes to health and safety in the workplace?
- Are management-labor relations strong?
By getting a feel for how involved your company leaders are in occupational health and safety right now, you’ll know where to focus efforts for the upcoming year.
6. Incentive Programs
Incentive programs are often the first thing cut from the budget, but they can be powerful tools of engagement – if they’re implemented correctly.
While it’s wise to avoid programs that reward zero-injuries (which actually encourages employees not to report incidents), try incorporating incentives and rewards for employees who make safety suggestions. This helps foster a collaborative safety culture and shows employees that their feedback is valuable to creating a safer workplace for everyone.
Build a Better Budget
Just about every safety budget makes room for things like PPE and fall protection. These are critical components of occupational health and safety, but they're not the only ones. It's easy to cut corners on technology, ergonomics, education, and incentives, but these are important aspects of workplace safety and trimming them comes at a big price.
By making room for these items in your next safety budget, you’ll be able to take your health and safety program to the next level and ensure you’re addressing the safety and well-being of your workers from all angles.