Safety Is No Accident — Part One
hat are the primary reasons the owner/managers of emerging businesses take actions to improve safety in the workplace?" This was a key question in the national survey of 3,200 smaller and medium-sized businesses on preventing injuries and promoting safety in the workplace recently undertaken jointly by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) and the Education Foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB); the executive summary is titled, Motivating Safety in the Workplace.
The most frequently cited motivation for taking safety actions by the respondents to this survey was the cost of workers' compensation insurance (59 percent). This was followed closely by 51 percent of the respondents who simply believed it was"the right thing to do." Exactly one-third of the sample stated the most important motivation for taking safety actions was to increase long-term profitability. [This is a noteworthy observation.] In decreasing order of frequency, other reasons for taking safety actions included compliance with State/Federal safety rules, "too many accidents," employee morale, productivity, OSHA fines, employee concerns, recommendations of outside experts, and personal experience with an accident (12 percent).
Looking at the flip side of this question, the most common reason for limiting the scope of safety actions was the belief by owner/managers of emerging businesses that they were already in satisfactory compliance with government safety regulations (31 percent). Significantly, this rationale implies that government safety regulations constitute minimum standards, but are often viewed as also defining the upper limits beyond which there is no motivation to exceed. Emerging businesses commonly view these safety regulations to be both a floor and a ceiling. In decreasing order of frequency, other factors limiting safety measures introduced into the workplace are the costs, the belief that they "wouldn't improve safety," the business disruptions that would be incurred, a perceived lack of information, and employee resistance (6 percent).
Interestingly, exactly three-fifths (61 percent) of the respondents had requested and received a safety inspection from some source outside the company during the past five years. And almost all of these voluntary safety inspections (89 percent) were deemed to be quite helpful. Ironically, this same sample placed "recommendations of outside experts" at almost the bottom of the list of the most important motivations for taking safety actions.
Shifting to compliance inspections, the required remedies for safety failures identified through these inspections were found to be reasonable more than twice as often as they were considered to unreasonable or excessive. These inspectors were portrayed as being knowledgeable and competent more than three times as often as being unqualified.
The owner/managers of these emerging businesses appeared to have an accurate assessment of how their own workplace accident experience compared with the accident/injury rates of similar businesses. The actual number of workers' compensation claims per employee for each company correlated closely with where the company was perceived to be positioned vis-a-vis comparable companies by the owner/managers.
Surprisingly, a large proportion of the companies polled were unaware of the impact of workers' compensation experience-ratings on the cost of their insurance. More than half of the respondents were not experience-rated or they did not even know if they were experience-rated or they did not reply to the query about experience-rating or they indicated they were experience-rated but offered modification factors that were obviously out of range. This appears to be a critical area where management education and awareness needs improvement among emerging businesses. Confronted with the substantial costs of workers' compensation insurance, there are neglected opportunities for improved performance and meaningful reductions in operating costs.
What practical message is presented in the results of this national survey? The primary message appears to be that the owner/managers of emerging businesses frequently have much misinformation, misperceptions, and indeed lack of knowledge about workplace safety. Workplace safety is often seen as an unavoidable nuisance and burdensome cost. Realistic education is needed here perhaps more than in any other area of management. Understood in its fullness and completeness, workplace safety offers attractive opportunities for enhanced performance, raised employee morale and loyalty, and measurable cost reductions. Workplace safety is often an area of profit improvement that is overlooked every day. To focus on this profit improvement opportunity, perhaps the best first step is to schedule a voluntary workplace inspection by an independent authority — as quickly as possible!
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