WORKPLACE HEALTH & SAFETY

Organizing for Safety and Health

UL sponsored a leadership roundtable to develop recommendations related to organizing for safety and health, which can improve effectiveness in these areas and reduce costs, yet has often proven a challenge for companies to achieve.


WHY ORGANIZING FOR SAFETY AND HEALTH MATTERS

Conceptually, it is clear that worker health and safety are inextricably linked. Unhealthy workers represent a safety risk, and unsafe working conditions can negatively impact worker health.1 At the same time, many organizations have maintained separate health and safety functions because of the distinct expertise and processes required in each area. Focusing on the two independently has tended to result in unconnected organizational silos with discrete budget allocations and management structures.2 This split has been reinforced in the U.S. by the fact that facilitating worker health and well-being is voluntary; whereas, the maintenance of a working environment free of recognized hazards is a legal mandate (regulated in the U.S. by OSHA).3 Organizing for safety and health is important because integrating the management of these two functions can improve their effectiveness4 and reduce their costs,5 benefitting both organizations and their employees.


CONTEXT

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Integrating the management of the health and safety functions can improve their effectiveness and reduce their costs, which benefits organizations and their employees.

Currently, in the U.S., approximately 4.1 million workers suffer serious job-related injuries or illnesses each year.6 Workplace injuries and illnesses have a significant negative impact on businesses, in terms of lost productivity due to sick leave absenteeism and costs related to insurance, health care, workers’ compensation and disability claims. The Integrated Benefits Institute attributes $576 billion in total annual spending to injured and ill workers based on: $117 billion in wage replacement (incidental absence attributed to illness, workers’ compensation, short-term and long-term disability), $232 billion in medical and pharmacy costs (workers’ compensation, employee group health medical treatments, employee group health pharmacy treatments) and $227 billion in lost productivity (absence attributed to illness and being present but not wholly productive “presenteeism”).7

 

As the statistics cited above attest, separate management of the health and safety functions as practiced today is very costly. Integrating health protection (worker safety) with health promotion (worker well-being) offers significant benefits,8 including:

  • Providing greater transparency to effectively detect and mitigate emerging risks9
  • Reducing the number and redundancy of deployed systems to improve efficiency and lower costs
  • Improving reporting, data sharing, internal benchmarking, transparency, communication and accountability
  • Facilitating collaboration on key program areas that require cross-functional support
  • Sharpening the breadth and depth of risk analysis to target prevention efforts toward the most costly — and potentially catastrophic — losses
  • Leveraging untapped synergies across departments, divisions and locations
  • Increasing the visibility of critical programs to build a safer, healthier and more productive culture10

Although the integration of health and safety management may appear to be a relatively simple concept, in practice it has proven complex and difficult to realize due to a variety of factors, from operational structures and functional ownership to conventional practice and the need for change management.11

WHAT DID UL DO?

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The integration of health and safety management may appear to be a relatively simple concept, but it has proven complex and difficult to realize due to a variety of factors.

UL, in collaboration with the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University and the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM) at the University of California, Berkeley, sponsored a two-day leadership roundtable June 20-21, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. The roundtable included a cross section of business executives; safety, insurance and risk management professionals; occupational medicine physicians and nurses; university faculty members and researchers; and other subject matter experts. It was the first thought leadership summit of its kind, centered on the concept of workplace health and safety program integration.

 

One critical focus area of the session was the concept of organizing for health and safety. Included were presentations to participants on the need for enterprise-wide engagement, the importance of scorecards and shifting from a corrective to a preventive approach, and understanding the mechanisms through which organizations create and sustain a culture of safety. Subsequent discussions examined five critical imperatives to advancing the unification of health and safety in organizations, which yielded a broad range of recommendations.

 

Imperative 1: Elevate Perceptions of Safety in Organizations

  1. Health and safety should be positioned as an organizational value backed by sincere and honest management commitment.
  2. Incorporating safety procedures into job descriptions and tasks should be routine business practice, not an afterthought.
  3. Reinforce/recognize employees for following safe work practices and identify unsafe actions.
  4. Hold people accountable for succeeding/not succeeding. Don’t use safety performance as a sole or convenient disciplinary tool.
  5. If a safety solution or process is delayed due to time and budgetary constraints, be open about the constraints and establish a realistic implementation time frame.
  6. The quality of a safety program largely depends on the people who are responsible for it: “Don’t just throw a warm body at it.” Recruit and support qualified safety professionals.
  7. Make safety an institutional value and provide sufficient resources to accomplish key goals.
  8. Establish a process to identify and resolve competing priorities throughout the enterprise.
  9. Make a personal commitment to safety and employee well-being.
  10. Include safety metrics in corporate annual reports.
  11. Expand metrics beyond injury incident rates and amount of training provided per year.
  12. A sense of ownership is key. Give employees stop-work authority to prevent impending failures. Recognize employees’ ability to call out potentially unsafe conditions.
  13. Respond immediately to incidents and accidents. This may include alerting senior management as well as supervisors, implementing a safety stand-down until an issue is resolved or conducting a thorough root cause investigation.
  14. Leverage the training; refresh and repeat process.
  15. If safety is buried in your policy guide, elevate its position and incorporate it in your mission statement. Safety should be kept top of mind through messaging. Safety should not be treated as a “flavor of the month.”
  16. Revel in success and continuous improvement.
  17. Don’t assume that, because there are no injuries occurring, you can relax.12
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The quality of a safety program largely depends on the people who are responsible for it, so it is important to recruit and support qualified safety professionals.

Imperative 2: Strategies to Motivate Senior Leaders to Pay Attention

  1. Recognize that every level of an organization has key metrics; they vary by role and responsibility.
  2. Avoid presenting disparate metrics that do not resonate with the business as a whole. Senior executives generally want to see metrics tied to overall company performance, such as an increase in earnings per share, rather than individual program success.
  3. Capture data that can become part of a broader business development strategy.
  4. Given the aging workforce, develop a succession plan to adapt quickly to transitions in executive leadership in order to maintain organizational commitment to health and safety systems and training.
  5. If you work in a health or safety position, find allies in your organization.13

Imperative 3: Potential Trade-off Considerations to Balance a Commitment to Health and Safety with Business Pressures

  1. Recognize that there are two sides to trade-offs. On one hand, they are a legitimate concern, but on the other hand, they are a “false proposition.”
  2. Introduce symbols and signals to heighten awareness of the organization’s commitment to health and safety.
  3. Take action to change attitudes about safety and increase employee buy-in.
  4. Address the likelihood of lapses in attention, a leading cause of accidents. For instance, as the weekend approaches, if feasible, assign less complicated and heavy tasks to help minimize risk.
  5. Identify inherent risks in jobs. For example:
    • Third-shift workers have been shown to be more susceptible to developing diabetes.
    • Transportation is a sedentary occupation, and a significant percentage of commercial drivers are overweight or obese.
  6. Empower employees so they can see how they contribute to the organization’s overall success and connect business performance to their personal and professional values.
  7. Be flexible and prepared to respond in the face of the unexpected.
  8. Incorporate health, safety and business connectivity concepts in undergraduate and graduate Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) and business education.
  9. Mentor young professionals and help them prepare for the changing landscape earlier in their career development.14
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It is important to address the likelihood of lapses in attention, a leading cause of accidents. For instance, as the weekend approaches, if feasible, assign less complicated and heavy tasks to help minimize risk.

Imperative 4: How to Position Safety Performance as a Vital Element of Business Performance

  1. Use safety as the “raw material” to educate senior leaders about investment value.
  2. Hire leaders who are well-versed in workplace health and safety program integration. Well-managed organizations “understand” safety, as it is part of how a good business operates.
  3. Rather than focus on risk, shift the conversation to safety benefits.
  4. Advocate for cost transparency and actively communicate across operational segments, business units and offices.
  5. Encourage employee engagement and team collaboration.15

Imperative 5: What Practices and Processes Can Enhance Both Health and Safety

  1. Organizational alignment is essential when attempting to incentivize and enhance cross-functional collaboration.
  2. Hire strong and capable safety professionals who can act as agents of change, whether collaboration is occurring between health and safety departments or throughout an organization.
  3. Establish a health and safety review board to evaluate specific incidents and endemic issues, and allow the group to develop a response plan.
  4. Determine what you are going to measure. Examples include:
    • Health and safety program goals and implications
    • Overall reductions in health care costs
    • Competitive shifts
    • Revenue generation
    • Productivity indicators
  5. Implement a balanced scorecard that incorporates measurable health and safety activity.
  6. Provide incentives, such as gift cards or premium discounts, to employees who participate in health and safety programs to reduce injury and absence rates.16

IMPACT

The roundtable discussions and the recommendations they produced represent the beginning of a dialogue among key stakeholders intended to advance the state of thinking in workplace health and safety. We will continue to engage stakeholders to better understand their perspectives, insights and concerns. And we will translate the recommendations these discussions produced into actionable programs. UL remains committed to helping companies find ways to unify their health and safety functions to enhance the well-being and productivity of their workforces, improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Sources

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