Workplace accidents and injuries significantly damage the productivity and efficiency of your operations. Studies have estimated that for every £1 of direct costs incurred in treating and providing disability benefits to an injured employee, employers incur an additional £4 in indirect costs, such as management time spent investigating and handling the claim, lost productivity of the injured worker, hiring and retraining a replacement employee, associated property damage and more.
The cumulative consequences of injuries and accidents are sobering. Such incidents seriously affect bottom-line profit by adding unnecessary costs to your operations and subjecting your company to potential fines and penalties. These costs can range from tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on the size and scope of your business.
Once your organisation has embraced the need to prioritise workplace safety, it must then focus on two interrelated, yet distinctly different, objectives: compliance and accident prevention.
Many organisations, however, make the mistake of limiting their efforts to this first objective, and neglect the second, much greater, challenge: accident prevention. A successful workplace safety programme requires that an organisation address and achieve both objectives.
It’s a sobering thought that 95% of all injuries and accidents are caused by unsafe employee acts, not unsafe conditions.
For example, you may develop very effective standard operating procedures only to discover that no one is following them. You may provide safety glasses and hearing protection, but find no one is wearing them. You may build an ergonomically friendly workstation only to observe poor posture or a “creative” workstation setup.
Because workers’ compensation is a ‘no fault’ system, the costs of injuries that result from lack of employee compliance will still be borne by the organisation, so the only way to ensure a truly successful safety programme is to make the management team responsible for actually preventing injuries and accidents.
In order to accomplish this, a bit of psychology is required. Before managers can take steps to prevent unsafe behaviour they need to first understand what causes people to behave unsafely.
This might sound obvious, but when you consider that no one sets out to get injured intentionally, you realise that the complexities of human nature are indeed at play.
There are a range of reasons employees perform unsafe acts. For example, they don’t know the right procedures. Management assumes people will exercise good common sense and therefore does not adequately train employees.
Often this is the outcome of safety instruction that is far too general – for example “be careful”. Conversely, it may result from handing an employee a large safety rules guide and simply instructing them to read it and sign the dotted line.
Either way, the employee does not really understand – and is therefore not able to follow – correct safety procedures.
They also take short cuts. Sometimes this occurs because an employee simply gets lazy, and believes it’s just easier to not follow the rules. On the other hand, it can also occur because management has inadvertently encouraged not following the rules by placing unrealistic demands on employees or undertaking poor planning, which in turn results in undo pressure to cut corners to meet deadlines.
Then they can get complacent. Statistically, we know that employees can perform an unsafe act hundreds – even thousands – of times, with no resulting accident. This lack of negative consequence reinforces the unsafe behaviour, creating bad work habits and the attitude that “it will never happen to me.”
We know, however, that the more times unsafe acts occur, statistically the more frequently an accident or injury will result. The key, then, to eliminating injuries and accidents and ultimately the associated costs, is to eliminate unsafe behaviour by counteracting the scenarios outlined above.