Investing in a Safety Program: A Little Goes a Long Way
This is part 4 in our 4 part series on implementing a workplace safety program. Special thanks to Safety Guys Workplace Safety Trainers for their input.
When it comes to costing-out your program, don’t be put off by thinking that safety needs to be expensive. Think of eye and ear protection as a good analogy: goggles and earplugs are not expensive items, but they can avoid long-term harm. Yet, some companies think of safety as a line item that can be squeezed without consequences.
Maybe there’s not enough in the budget for new personal protective equipment (PPE) this year, or there isn’t time to push production back so safety training becomes less of a priority. But as we’ve discussed, an accident can cost a company even more than an expensive safety program ever could. So, when you consider how little putting together a safety program can actually cost, there really isn’t an excuse not to have one.
Safety program affordability
Even for smaller companies, a well-designed program with solid practices doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Government organizations, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), have lots of free resources.
In fact, the CCOHS even tells a cautionary tale about a small company with a good safety record that paid a price for trying to save money. Such small companies often don’t have deep pockets recover, so they really can’t afford not to have a safety program. “They often don’t have the extra resources needed to help them through the aftermath of an accident. Plus, you do not need to have an accident to incur lack-of-safety expenses,” the CCOHS notes.
You do not need to have an accident to incur lack-of-safety expenses.
Companies need to look at the real cost and the value that programs can provide. That way you can present a program and defend it effectively knowing exactly how the dollars spent will enhance safety. For example, PPE is pretty straightforward to quantify. But you may need to make a case that the time you spend creating a safety program is worthwhile. Or you may want to outsource such a task to a professional.
Not every company needs to hire a consultant to rework the safety program or design a new program. But, for a larger businesses, chances are pretty good that it’s a worthwhile investment that will pay off.
The three ring binder: a cheap and effective safety tool
Some outfits may find it worthwhile to draw on the expertise of companies like Ottawa-based Safety Guys Workplace Safety Training for a tailor-made safety program. According to Safety Guys manager Brenda Van Belle, one of the most effective tools for building a safety program is also one of the least expensive. A simple binder is a good place to start.
“For starters, you can keep an detailed equipment list along with all the manuals and maintenance schedules together along with safety assessments for each piece of equipment,” says Van Belle. While you’re at it, pull together a binder for standard operating procedures in case of accidents or incidents. “Keep it simple: 5-7 steps. You get greater buy-in if you keep things simple. Even small things you may assume people know… Write it all down,” she says.
You can keep an detailed equipment list along with all the manuals and maintenance schedules together along with safety assessments for each piece of equipment [in a three ring binder].
After safety training sessions make sure your staff signs-off on everything that was covered. Make sure all questions are noted and any concerns addressed. Van Belle says it’s important to create a paper trail: proof that you’ve done your due diligence and a record in case an incident requires an investigation or your business is the subject of a random inspection by a governing body.
Of course that binder doesn’t literally have to be a physical binder. Spreadsheets or other digital documents like PDFs are great because they are searchable. Digital copies are a good backup resource, because it’s not always possible for you to answer all questions personally, and it’s always good to let employees know where to find the info if you’re not around.
Digital records, such as spreadsheets, also allow quick access to training lists at a glance. Names and dates of training as well as a copy of what’s said in each safety talk is useful to keep. Add a sign-in sheet and you have proof that someone attended training. If they attended a course, but didn’t listen to the supervisor in the event of an incident then that places the onus on the employee.
Balancing safety budgets
When designing a safety program you need to balance your company’s budget and the health and safety of your team. What’s the cost you can bear versus the risk to your company’s goals an accident may present? These costs will naturally be higher in workplaces where workers regularly face hazards as they perform their daily work. But in general, providing a safe workplace not only protect lives, it will also save your company money.
The expenses incurred by putting in place a safety program, even if it’s just the time invested in development and training, will reduce non-safety costs that are both direct and indirect, and tangible and intangible.
It’s pretty easy to calculate costs for citations and fines for noncompliance with health and safety regulations. Such tickets can be in the hundreds of dollars, while fines and penalties are in thousands of dollars per offence. These aren’t operating expenses, so they can’t be written off on your taxes as part of the cost of doing business. Then there’s the potential jail time if the noncompliance results in serious injury or death. Other direct costs you might consider:
- Worker’s compensation premiums
- Safety-related wages
- Safety training program development
- Training implementation
- Hazard research and identification
- Personal Protective Equipment costs
- OSHA or CCOHS fines for noncompliance
- Attorney fees
Some costs you incur will be one-time only as you set up your safety program and such capital costs can be amortized and eventually help decrease expenses over time if they prevent costly incidents. A company with a higher incidence of accidents and injuries might have higher attorney fees and spend a lot more time and money to find the problem and training to correct the issues.
The true cost of safety is much like purchasing insurance. You can only quantify the cost when you can assess how it affects your bottom like in the event of a loss.
You will have a financial loss if an accident happens: a loss of productivity while a job site is down pending an investigation. And your workers, who depend on you, may also lose their income during that time. Some costs aren’t so straightforward but do hurt your bottom line in some very tangible ways. Here are a few examples:
- Reputation of company hurt by bad publicity
- Poor morale and reduced productivity, particularly after an accident or incident
- Poor employee retention, new hires, onboarding, and training
- Employee sick leave, increased volume of illnesses and injuries
All of these factors can impact the quality of your employees’ work and reduce production time, negatively affect your profits. So rather than being penny wise and pound foolish, it’s important to realize that an investment in safety can actually reduce the cost of doing business and build a healthy bottom line. It also means that, at the end of the day, everyone goes home healthy and happy.
And that’s priceless.
This is part 4 in our 4 part series on implementing a workplace safety program: