Once joining any company as a new hire, there is typically some sort of orientation process by which you are required to complete basic paperwork and review of the company values in some form or fashion. For a company with a well-established safety program and positive safety culture, this could also mean thorough review of Company Health & Safety Policies, Safe Work procedures, training, competency evaluation and much more.
However, when the economy is in a downturn and companies look to cut costs, is a Safety Program really necessary? Does safety cost us more than it's worth? Does doing all of this safety paperwork and completing training courses really help make us safer, or are we going through the motion to simply satisfy due diligence.
To answer these questions, we must consider the underlying reason why safety programs exist in the first place.
To put it simply, people were being killed at work by actions that - in many cases - could have been prevented entirely or at least present with reduced risk.
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety defines a OH&S program as
'A definite plan of action designed to prevent accidents and occupational diseases. Some form of a program is required under occupational health and safety legislation in most Canadian jurisdictions. A health and safety program must include the elements required by the health and safety legislation as a minimum.'
Having a Health and safety program in place and meeting legislative requirements means that the risk of injury is reduced. It also means that by following these legal requirements, employers and workers may also be at reduced risk for criminal charges in the event of an incident, fatality or otherwise.
The aim for all this 'Safety Stuff' is to ensure workers are trained to recognize hazards and responsibilities in their workplace whereby efforts can be made by the company to reduce risk of injury, reduce WCB claims, reduce lost time and protect a company's most valuable asset - its people.
For example, the Formal Hazard Assessment process (Job hazard task Analysis, JHA/JSA) is meant to be completed with worker participation in order to identify:
- Tasks that various positions may complete
- Hazards of those tasks that personnel should be aware of
- Controls the company has put into place in order to remove or mitigate the risk (Engineering controls, PPE, Training, Substitution etc.)
- Monitor performance to ensure staff are actually utilizing those control measures so as to protect the company and its people.
So while the safety program must exist for legal purposes, it's also important to recognize that your safety program is never 'Done', meaning that once you have a Safety Manual you can't leave it on a shelf and forget about it. It is a living element of your company that grows and changes with the company operations and must be monitored to ensure requirements are met and work is safely performed under those guidelines.
As they say 'the proof is in the pudding' and companies must practice what they preach as well. In the event of an incident or some form of audit, it's the documentation that reflects the company's commitment to their own program.
For example, if your company's inspection policy states that a Pre-Trip inspection will be completed each and every time a piece of equipment is utilized, the documentation of these records must be available to ensure that those inspections are in fact completed as indicated.
A well-established, management-supported and documented safety program can largely reflect on the companies bottom line.
Preventing incidents (regardless whether they are injuries
to staff or visitors, fires, motor vehicle collisions, environmental incidents or other occurrences) can reduce losses and may thereby reduce cost impacts.
The direct cost of insurance as well as many indirect costs (such as lost work time, productivity, damaged materials, etc.) can upset what may otherwise be a profitable year.
An effective safety program may reduce costs in many ways, including but not limited to:
- Administrative time
- Schedule disruptions
- Production losses
- Equipment or product losses
- Inefficiency of replacement workers
- Training replacement workers
'When you believe in what you do, you do what you believe in'.
Effective Safety Programs also reduce workers’ compensation costs; increase morale ; increase productivity; decrease absenteeism and minimize wasted time.
This is not to say that a great paper trail = a safer workplace. Those records must absolutely be legitimate and all parties must believe in the benefits of an effective safety program (Safety Personnel, Management, Workers etc.) in order to keep the ball rolling! A great deal of value comes with a positive approach and effective training.