How much does a workplace injury cost the company? Costs for accidents vary, so it’s hard to give an answer for each injury — but it’s easy to find a total. American businesses paid over $55 billion in 2011, just in direct workers compensation, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. That’s over a billion dollars each week.
That’s only part of the cost. In addition to direct payments, facilities lose productivity when a worker can’t work, and they lose even more to reduced morale and efficiency. Time and resources are spent on repairing equipment, cleaning up messes, and filling out paperwork like the OSHA 300 form. This doesn’t even count the pain and trouble that the injured worker goes through!
With all these avoidable costs to consider, a formal plan to reduce the frequency and severity of on-the-job injuries is a natural part of improving your business. These plans are required by law in several states. They’re even on OSHA’s agenda as a possible nationwide requirement. In short, you need to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). Since April is Injury Prevention Month, there’s no better time to get started.
How can you do it? You’ll need three key elements:
- Participation from Management and Employees
- Detailed Problem Identification and Control
- Ongoing Documentation and Improvement
Participation and Buy-In
No major change in a business can succeed without support “from above and below.” You’ll need buy-in from the management team and from the affected employees. Just like you would with any other new business practice, create a goal and benchmarks to measure progress. Then, get people involved in meeting that goal, and provide the resources they need to get there.
Set up a system of communication. Schedule periodic meetings to discuss safety, and make sure that both employees and managers attend those meetings. Encourage employees to provide feedback, report problems, and ask questions. You can even use a safety suggestion box to provide an anonymous way to report. Make it clear, though, that active involvement here is helping your company; there should never be negative reprisals against safety reports.
Once you have that communication system in place, show that it works. Each time a suggestion arrives, make sure that it is addressed, even if the response is only a request for more information. When something changes, make sure that the people affected know why it changed. When people see that their input is heard, valued, and acted on, they will provide more and better input. The cycle of team investment is self-sustaining.
Problem Identification and Control
To turn suggestions into a formal plan, you need an accurate understanding of your facility as it is. Start by walking through your facility, following the steps of a safety inspection. Take input from employees in each area of the facility to identify:
- Equipment and tools in use, where they are stored, and how they are maintained
- Work processes and worker movement
- Important elements of the facility itself, like stairwells, exits, and blind corners
- Anything that could pose a hazard to an employee
- Anything that could be helpful in responding to an accident
Now that you understand the current state of your workplace, look at its history. Examine and record:
- Previous accidents, or near misses
- Rates of injury and illness
- Employee turnover rates and absenteeism
- Past costs of worker’s compensation and insurance
- Previous hazard reports and improvement suggestions, and what was done in response — or, if nothing was done, why not
Once you understand the existing problems, prioritize and resolve them. Inform workers of what you’ve found, and address any immediate hazards, even with a temporary fix. Then, move forward with more long-term solutions. A final solution may include altering your facility, adding informative signs or labels, or revising a work process. Retrain employees as needed, so that all affected workers know what has changed.
Ongoing Documentation and Improvement
As long as your facility is operating, there will be new situations to deal with, and new suggestions to improve on old methods. Instead of fighting that change, embrace it. When periodic retraining is part of your initial plans, it becomes part of the facility culture. Changes don’t come as a surprise to anyone; the continuous improvement process becomes natural. Ensure that employees understand the systems and procedures that are in place, and continue to take their feedback.
Periodically, you will need to go back and verify that your changes are working. Measure the progress that you make toward your safety goals, and revise those goals as necessary. Document everything, and keep an eye out for ways to improve your program even more.
These three major elements (team involvement, problem identification and resolution, and ongoing improvement) needed for an Injury and Illness Prevention Program are the also needed for Kaizen, a lean manufacturing approach. Kaizen was designed to improve efficiency in the workplace, but it can adapt well for injury prevention. This approach can make your IIPP work more smoothly and effectively, and integrate into a broader business improvement system. After all, saving money is good a business practice!