The Benefits of Creating a Safety-Aware Environment in the Workplace

Introduction:
Safety in the workplace is undergoing change: evolving from an optional extra to a compliance necessity, firms are now increasingly recognizing the many benefits of developing, and committing to, a strong safety culture. These range from increased staff morale and increased productivity, to reduced injury-related costs, competitive insurance premiums and improved turnover profits and reputation.

However, encouraging a culture of safety involves more than mere lip service. Safety-orientated values, long-term commitments to firm-wide safety, and consistent concrete actions will determine which organisations will reap the rewards of creating and maintaining an effective safety culture.

What is meant by a “Safety Culture”, and why is it important?

Safety in the workplace saves lives; it also saves money. According to the 2013 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, US businesses lose more than a billion dollars a week in compensation costs arising from the 10 most common workplace injuries and illnesses – incidents which could be prevented with proper safety measures in place. These figures do not account for the associated productivity losses and administrative expenses, which are estimated to amount to a further $120 billion, annually.

Too often, safety in the workplace is regarded as an expensive option, and the cost of implementing an effective and comprehensive safety policy becomes the firm’s overriding concern. However, the costs to a company of not developing and nurturing a positive safety culture are high in many regards. A poor safety record will result in the following knock-on effects:

• Higher insurance premiums
• Lost productivity
• Higher injury and illness rates
• Expense of replacing injured / ill workers
• Expense of high staff turnover
• Compensation and legal costs
• Damaged employee morale
• Cost of replacing damaged property

Furthermore, not only will an organisation’s profits / turnover suffer, but also its reputation – the cost of which is largely unquantifiable.

So what is meant by a “Safety Culture”?

A culture of safety in an organisation is one where safety in the workplace is intrinsic in the values and standards of the firm. However, it is not enough for the organisation to hold specific values; these must manifest themselves in the words the organisation uses, as well as in the actions it takes.

The principles held need to be properly and consistently communicated to staff. The words used, as well as the tone, will impress upon all personnel how seriously management takes safety in the workplace. Staff members will always take their cue from the managerial communication they receive, overt or otherwise; if these are consistently positive and supportive, the foundations of a positive safety culture will be laid.

As with any situation, however, actions speak louder then words. Any actions, however small, which decision-makers or managers take to encourage, promote or support safety in the workplace will have a positive knock-on effect on all personnel. (As a corollary, positive verbal communication will have little impact if it is not backed up by similarly positive actions.) The most effective actions which senior staff members can take are those which overtly reward safety-oriented behaviour in others. This, more than anything, will send a message of the importance of safety to the organisation.

Altogether, a firm’s safety culture is a combination of its values, communications and, above all, its actions.

Developing your Firm’s Safety Culture
All firms have a safety culture – however, not all have a positive one. Before you can take steps to develop your firms, you need to determine what sort of safety culture is already in place.

Identify Your Own Culture
The first step is to communicate with the personnel tasked with the organisation’s safety – the appropriate manager or consultant. This will give feedback on what the firm would ideally wish its values to be. The reality, however, may be quite different, and can only be assessed from the ground up: by communicating with all staff members, and identifying their perceptions of the organisation’s safety culture.

One of the most efficient and comprehensive means of communicating with a staff about its safety culture is to develop and circulate questionnaires. To ensure honesty and candidness, any such questionnaire should be stated to be anonymous, free from negative consequences, and be aiming to act positively on the information gathered.

In addition, a questionnaire should address a broad range of safety culture indicators; as a guide, one of the leaders in Safety Culture, Dan Petersen, identified 20 safety management categories, including: Attitude Towards Safety, Inspections, Employee Training, Supervisor Training, Involvement of Employees, and Operating Procedures. Such categories are worth considering as a guide when developing or reviewing questionnaires.

Having determined how strong – or otherwise – your organisation’s safety culture is, you can then take stock and design a plan for moving ahead. If your firm has a weak culture, then the first steps to take are to liaise with senior management to identify the firm’s policy. As a safety officer, you may initially be met with resistance, usually in relation to the perceived cost of implementation. Some of the costs and effects of a failure to develop a strong safety culture have been set out above, and should be communicated as necessary.

Develop and Improve Your Firm’s Culture
Irrespective of your organisation’s existing position, there are numerous steps that can be taken to improve a firm’s culture. Obviously, all action taken should consider the organisation’s industry, size and structure, but here are some examples of actions which can apply irrespective of such confines:

• Involve Your Staff
The best way to develop a strong safety culture is to involve all personnel. Empowering staff sends the message that their role in the success of the firm is crucial, and plays an important role in encouraging staff morale and pride. Staff can be involved in a myriad of ways, from providing feedback on firm policies, having a safety liaison officer, creating a safety committee, or developing plans pertinent to specific departments.

• Operate from the Top Down
The best way to ensure safe behaviour in the work place is to have it mirrored from management. Any safety policy implemented needs to be demonstrated by senior management and decision makers.

• Introduce a Mentor Programme
A safety mentor programme is an effective way of introducing new staff members to the safety culture. As well as creating positive expectations from existing workers, it creates role models for incoming staff to follow.

• Implement Effective Training
Training itself is not sufficient: it must be effective. To this end it should be:
Comprehensive enough – too much information at one time is more likely to be forgotten;
Ongoing – one-off training is not enough. To demonstrate a real commitment to safety, training needs to be regular and periodic;
Flexible – effective training should be able to accommodate all levels of audience;
Relevant – tailor each training session according to the appropriate department; and
Organic – it should “grow” with the staff members.

• Diarise Safety Reviews
To be fully effective, a safety programme should also incorporate regular reviews. It is worth, therefore, considering periodic meetings to discuss and review safety, looking not only at internal issues and incidents, but also to discuss any relevant matters which have occurred within the industry which could have an impact on safety in your firm.

• Display Your Safety Message
Visibility is key in creating a culture. Publicising your values tells your staff that you are serious about, and committed to, your safety culture.

• Recognize and Encourage Positive Action
Ways of doing this include creating a periodic Safety Worker award, publicizing positive safety actions across the firm or even the industry, or implementing smaller, less formal means to highlight within the organisation steps taken by individuals.

• Communicate Effectively
Finally, it is not enough for an organisation’s management to communicate its values and ideas; effective communication needs to be a two-way event. To ensure a strong safety culture, an organisation must listen to its staff, and create the channels for effective two-way communication. Safety requires the input of all workers, and a safety culture must explicitly embrace and include all members of the organisation.

The Role of Safety Management Systems

Safety Management Systems are, deservedly, increasing in popularity, as organisations recognize that safety in the workplace is not only a compliance issue, but also a matter of effective risk management.

When married with positive safety-based values, effective communication and progressive actions, an SMS is an essential safety tool, fundamental for measuring safety, and assessing the organisation’s improvement. It enables staff members to quickly and easily communicate policies and actions, and to implement and achieve safety goals. Moreover, a broad system will highlight safety hazards and risks, facilitating preventative measures, and supporting risk management.

In addition, the implementation of an SMS is a concrete means for an organisation to demonstrate both its investment in, and commitment to, a positive, strong safety culture.

Acquiring Safety Vests

Safety vests can be important as a primary barrier to injury in the workplace. As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to act reasonably to avoid causing injury to your employees. As an employee, it is a good idea to consider investing in a safety vest as part of your work attire to ensure that you can protect yourself amongst your colleagues, although it may be better to remind your employer of his legal responsibility. Either way, there are a number of tricks and tips involved in acquiring safety vests at an attractive rate, which can be applied as an employee or, more favourable as an employer to best success.

As the employer, you are in the fortunate position of having resources plus a requirement for multiple units to cover the entirety of your workforce whilst allowing room for a few extra for future employees. This means you can afford to place bulk orders over longer delivery periods, which should be reflected in the figure you pay. Simply by opening a trade account with a supplier of safety wear, you can usually benefit from the privileges of trade discounts for bulk orders and credit terms, allowing you increased flexibility at a cheaper price. For many small to medium businesses, this is an essential step in allowing effective cash flow management, allowing the business to overcome the initial bulk purchasing hurdle without sacrificing the savings.

As an employee, you will find it more difficult to find a bargain in your pursuit for a safety vest, simply because you have access to less resources, and have a lower demand for product numbers. However, this doesn’t mean you have to pay top dollar for your safety wear. The Internet has numerous online retailers, stocking top of the range garments for all types of employments at generous discounts from retail prices. Alternatively, auction sites might provide you with a cheap, albeit second hand, garment that could serve the purpose for which it is required at a significantly lesser expense to you. At the end of the day, when the safety vest is purchased as an item exclusively for workwear to comply with employers requests, there is no reason not to look for a second hand offer that could help ease the financial burden. Unless your employer has requested a specific type of safety vest, there should be no problem in doing your own research to find a low cost alternative to ensure you don’t have to spend as much on your workwear.

Acquiring safety wear at a discount price need not be problematic, provided you know the ins and outs of haggling, and where to get the best deal to begin with. By browsing online, or looking for bulk suppliers, you can help reduce the unit cost per safety vest to an attractive rate, which will ultimately allow you to get more for your money. As an employer, this means you can decrease your fixed purchasing cost, as well as negotiate suitable terms for payment and delivery to aid with cash flow circumstances. All in all, through choosing your purchasing channels wisely, you can ensure you get the best deal for yourself, and your staff.

Sales Management and the Dealer Base

Wholesale distributors involved with a dealer channel that serves the end user have unique challenges in sales management. Ideally, this dealer channel should be strongly aligned with their wholesale distributors. That means a sharing of common goals and objectives with accountability on both sides of the equation. Dealers are not customers. They should be treated as channel partners. That means the wholesale distributor must focus on what the dealer is selling and not what they are buying.

Effective sales management in this channel includes planning sales growth, executing account strategies and using objective feedback to continuously improve performance and drive accountability. Maximizing success and profitability creates the necessity to manage this channel as a single integrated being. This means an effective sales process and structure must be in place which includes metrics, training and resources to support and improve sales performance for both the distributor and the dealer.

Effective sales management is not rocket science: “You measure results but you manage the activities that create those results.” Although the transition from activities to results can be almost immediate in demand fulfillment activities, it can become an extended period for demand creation and account development. Consequently, managing results is like closing the barn door after the horses are out of the barn. It’s just too late. The results you measure today are often created by activities that took place weeks and even months previously. To effectively manage sales in the dealer channel, it is imperative to define the specific activities necessary to drive results. By then managing those activities, success becomes much easier to achieve.

The key components of this sales management process are as follows:

Targeting

TOAD

Scorecard

Tool kit

Targeting should become a critically important sales practice for dealers and distributors – the difference between demand fulfillment and strategic demand creation, proactive selling. This is the process of selecting high potential accounts, developing penetration plans for each, and turning potential into achievable results. Targeting becomes a driving force for call planning and time management, as dealer sales people shift their focus to increasing market share by improving share of customer spend and new account generation. Today’s customer is much smarter and better educated than they were in the 90’s. Sales representatives must understand their customers’ needs, find their pain and practice solution selling.

The Territory Opportunity Action-planning Discussion (TOAD) is the most important element in the process. It is the platform that creates timely feedback and a focus on meeting objectives. Sales managers should center these monthly discussions around performance improvement, coaching on best practices and providing support to the sales team.

A scorecard supports accountability and alignment throughout the network. It is a diagnostic tool and a motivator. It should include both results measurements (e.g. revenue, gross profit and market share growth) and supporting activity measurements (e.g. targeting activities, program compliance, training participation).

The tool kit is a library of best practice guidelines, reference material and other resources that anyone in the enterprise can peruse at his own convenience. The contents could include manuals, safety sheets, call budgeting, planning tools and account penetration strategy guidelines, etc.

As today’s sales environment leans toward a more multifaceted atmosphere, salespeople must become strategists with a plan. This plan requires more knowledge about the business, better relationships and better solutions. Once you accumulated this knowledge, utilize it. Develop your penetration strategy around the customer’s pains. What challenges do they face on a day to day basis? How do they make money? Where can you provide value, increase their ability to make profit. (This does not include price reductions). Employ all the resources in your company that are necessary to accomplish your growth objectives.