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Safety vs. Efficiency - Why Not Both?

Without a successful business, employees will not have a reliable source of income and without a safe environment; no owner will be able to maintain a steady workforce.

By Brian Condon, Government Affairs Associate, SGIA

Every business owner wants their company to run efficiently in order to maximize profits, and every employee wants to work in a safe environment to ensure their own well-being. The desires of both are understandable. Life experiences have taught us that nothing is guaranteed, but with a few minor adjustments in policy and perspective, both parties can be satisfied.

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    Managers need to keep issues as simple as they can and always remember communication goes both ways. Ask specific questions and take the time to listen to what a new hire may perceive as a concern. Confusion only leads to more confusion, so repeat important points multiple times and try to keep their perspective in mind. Try thinking back to when you were the new hire in the building - whether you were that eager, young go-getter who volunteered for every tough job that came in, or you were the timid individual who did just enough work to look busy and wanted to be accepted by your peers. Did you have enough courage to speak up about an unsafe situation?

    There is a lot of pressure on a new hire to become proficient at their new responsibilities while learning new procedures and policy in a new and possibly intimidating work environment. Take advantage of having a new pair of eyes seeing a fresh perspective on the operation. Some of the best ideas come from the least likely of places.

    Public Praise and Private Reprimand
    Give credit where credit is due and take a moment to recognize a job well done. Whether it is an individual achievement or a team effort, positive recognition will leave a lasting impression. Let your employees know you are pleased with their work. It only takes a moment and it will boost morale, and most importantly, it lets everybody know the quality of work that is expected. Publicly setting these kinds of standards reinforces your commitment to your end product while demonstrating your involvement with your employees. Effective motivation should always leave a smile on someone's face.

    We've all made mistakes. Shaming someone into doing a better job has never been an effective motivating technique. Public humiliation leads to disgruntled and unproductive workers, and nobody wants to work for someone they don't respect. If an employee makes a mistake, pull them aside and discuss in private. With isolated mistakes, make sure the guilty party understands their mistake and how to avoid it in the future. With a recurring mistake, more drastic measures may be needed, but do not allow it to interfere with production. As a manager you need to know your employees and how they deal with bad news.

    Signs of Fatigue and Stress
    If things are not running as efficiently as they should, stop and take notice of your surroundings. Is it the machinery or is it the employees? If it is an employee that you have always been able to rely on, there may be an underlying cause. People are allowed to have bad days, but when it begins to affect their productivity, some sort of intervention may be needed.

    Get to know your people while maintaining an employee/manager relationship. This is not the time to make a new drinking buddy. Be concerned but firm - after all, it is a business. People are not designed to run forever, so do not expect them to. Stress takes on many forms, and as a manager, your employees will depend on you to discern a bad day and work responsibilities.

    OSHA is Not a Four-Letter Word
    As much as owners may shudder at the thought of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), there is a purpose to its existence. Businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs related with occupational injuries and illnesses. Lost productivity from injuries and illnesses costs companies $60 billion each year. These costs come straight out of company profits. Numerous case studies have shown that workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20-40 percent. In today's cautious business environment, these costs can be the difference between operating in the black and running in the red. Injuries and illnesses increase workers' compensation, retraining costs and absenteeism. They also decrease productivity, morale and profits. Businesses operate more efficiently when they implement effective safety and health management systems.

    Do not let OSHA point out all your flaws. In a recent conversation with an OSHA inspector, he advised not waiting for an inspector to show up at your company unannounced, as they always do, and for you to then worry whether or not you meet all safety requirements. He suggested that the owner or manager conduct routine self-inspections to ensure that their company could pass an OSHA inspection if one should ever occur.

    Depending on the size and complexity of the company, the manager could justify if a self-inspection was needed every month, bimonthly or even quarterly, so long as it gets done. If you were to implement and then postpone these self-inspections, it is only a matter of time before someone walks into your company and identifies themselves as an OSHA inspector. And then the possibility of a stiff penalty would only be a short walk through away. To make the inspection run smoothly, the inspector advises to go above and beyond what an inspector would look for. Start by following the flow of raw materials. Where do the supplies and materials enter the building? What steps are taken to produce the final product? How and where does the final product leave the building? Now, what safety measures have been taken at each step?

    Finally, the inspector made sure to point out OSHA's onsite consultation program, which offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states. Onsite consultants come from state agencies or universities who work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice about how to comply, and aid in establishing a safety and health management program. Consultation services are separate from enforcement and therefore any infractions that are discovered will not result in penalties or citations so long as the owner ensures the consultants that the infractions will be taken care of in a timely manner. Love them or hate them, their presence makes an impact. Throughout OSHA's 40-year existence, it has seen occupational fatalities reduced by half and injuries and illnesses reduced by 40 percent. Check with your regional OSHA office about current services they offer.

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    Safety and Health Program
    A key element to maintaining a safe work environment is implementing a safety and health program. Having an effective safety and health program incorporated into your day-to-day operations will have tremendous benefits over the long-term stability, ethical development and reliability of your business. A number of studies that have been conducted have found that effective management of a workplace safety and health program reduces the extent and severity of work related injuries and illnesses. There is also evidence that it will improve employee morale and productivity, all while reducing workers' compensation costs.

    People tend to fall into a routine when they do repetitive activities. It's only when something has gone horribly wrong that people will see that there were plenty of signs that things were leading up to this mishap. It's always nice when an emergency plan works just how it is intended to; however, when a company can brag about never needing to use it, it is not because they got lucky.

    An effective occupational safety and health program includes four fundamental elements:

    • Management commitment and employee contribution
    • Worksite analysis
    • Hazard prevention and control
    • Safety and health training

    Management commitment and employee contribution
    Management commitment and employee contribution are intentionally complementary. Management commitment provides the motivating force and resources, while employee contribution provides the means through which workers develop and express their own commitment to safety and health protection. The safety and health policy needs to be stated clearly and often by establishing a clear goal and objective for your program.

    Ensure managers play an active role in implementing the program, and encourage employee involvement in the program and in decisions that affect their safety and health. Assign and communicate responsibility for all aspects of the program. Provide adequate authority and resources to responsible parties. Hold managers, supervisors and employees accountable for meeting their responsibilities. Routinely review the program to evaluate, identify deficiencies and revise as needed.

    Worksite analysis
    Worksite analysis involves a variety of worksite examinations to identify not only existing hazards but also conditions and operations where changes might occur to create hazards. Effective management actively analyzes the work and the worksite to anticipate and prevent harmful occurrences. So that all hazards are identified, conduct comprehensive baseline and periodic surveys for safety and health. Examine planned and new facilities, processes, materials and equipment. Perform routine job hazard analyses and provide for regular site safety and health inspections.

    You also want to provide a reliable system for employees, without fear of reprisal, to notify management about apparent hazardous conditions and to receive timely and appropriate responses. Offer a way to investigate accidents and "near miss" incidents so employees' causes and means for prevention are acknowledged. Evaluate injury and illness trends over time so that patterns with common causes can be identified and prevented.

    Hazard prevention and control
    Hazard prevention and control is triggered by a determination that a hazard or potential hazard exists. Where feasible, prevent hazards by effective design of the job or job site. When elimination of a hazard is not practical, you must do all you can to control the hazard to prevent unsafe and unhealthy exposure. Establish procedures for timely correction or control of hazards, including engineering techniques, where possible and appropriate. Emphasize procedures for safe work that are understood and followed as a result of training, positive reinforcement, correction of unsafe performance and enforcement. Providing personal protective equipment is an OSHA requirement - plus it just makes sense. Establish a medical emergency procedure and make sure there is a first aid kit onsite.

    Safety and health training
    Safety and health training addresses responsibilities of all personnel and is most effective when incorporated into other training about performance requirements and job practices. Complexity depends on size and difficulty of worksite and nature of hazards. Ensure that all employees understand the hazards to which they may be exposed and how to prevent harm to themselves and others from exposure to these hazards.

    Make sure that supervisors carry out their safety and health responsibilities, including:

    • Analyzing the work under their supervision to identify unrecognized potential hazards
    • Maintaining physical protections in work areas
    • Reinforcing employee training through continual performance feedback
    • Enforcing safe work practices

    A Safe Workplace is an Efficient Workplace
    Workplaces with active safety and health leadership have fewer injuries, are often rated better places to work, and have more satisfied, more productive employees. These employees return to work more quickly after an injury or illness and produce higher-quality products and services. The breakneck speed at which business is conducted today is a testimony to how important a well-run safety program can help with the efficiency of a company. It is not always the ability to cope with the major problems from time to time that keeps a company in good working order, but rather the dedication of all who work to keep the small parts of a company working together to form a smooth operation. With all of the tools and resources available to aid in the efficiency of a business, owners should make a profit and employees should feel safe in their work environment.

    Brian Condon is SGIA's government affairs associate. He has been with the Association since 2010.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, May/June 2011 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2011 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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