Strong workplace safety procedures and training are a must for all companies, says Marks Adams…
Despite drastic improvements to workplace health and safety over the years, occupational hazards remain all too high around the world, and in addition to the tragic human cost as a result of injury and death, it is also one of the biggest unnecessary expenses that employers face.
If we look to the United States where stats on the issue paint a very clear picture, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that employers pay out around $1bn a week in workers’ compensation alone. And all of this is before medical and legal bills or any indirect costs such as the training of replacement employees, lost productivity, or repairing equipment are factored in.
Consider that 4.1 million American employees suffer a job-related illness or injury every year. With OSHA putting costs for even the more minor injuries such as sprains and concussions anywhere between $60,000 and $127,000 per incident, you start to see just how much is lost each year as a result of poor safety practices.
And the global figures make for just as unpleasant reading, with the International Labour Organization estimating that 317 million workplace accidents occur around the world each year, and 2.3 million workers die every year as a result of occupational injury and disease.
Naturally these high injury rates are specific to certain industries. According to the US National Safety Council, construction, transport and agriculture are the sectors that see the most fatal work-related injuries, while mining is at the top of the list when it comes to the highest number of injuries overall.
Here in the UAE, it is more of the same on the construction front, which is the industry where we see the highest number of our workplace-related accidents. In 2012, for example, 10 construction workers died in Abu Dhabi alone, while the Al Ain Department of Environment, Health and Safety reported 4,450 accidents in 2013 as a result of what it called “insufficient knowledge, skills, and careless handling of electrical equipment.”
Workplace hazards can generally be split loosely into four categories (and as revealed by the categories it is again clear that certain industries carry the most risk):
1. Chemical hazards: Includes issues such as carbon monoxide poisoning, chemical burns or any instances where harmful substances may be inhaled or ingested
2. Biological hazards: Issues caused by bacteria and viruses
3. Environmental hazards: Includes noise and heat exposure, radiation and electric shocks
4. Psychological hazards: Includes workplace stress, anxiety, fatigue and exhaustion
A numbers approach
The first step in implementing a comprehensive workplace safety training programme is to understand which of these groups pose the greatest risk to your employees, and what injuries tend to occur within them.
If we take the construction industry as an example, data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics reveals that 58.1 per cent of worker deaths in 2014 were a result of four types of incidents – falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object, and becoming trapped in equipment.
Carrying out an internal study to arrive at the numbers for your particular company should not be too tricky, and with that information it becomes clear where the focus should initially be as you attempt to bring down the instances of injury on the job.
We recently carried out such an exercise for one of our clients and discovered that there was a very high rate of burn injuries in the food preparation department. The solution of course is as obvious as one would imagine, with extra training added and far tighter protocols and procedures implemented for governing the overall workflow.
It’s actually quite surprising how many companies do not do this. There is often the tendency to group injuries under the broader categories and address them on the whole, rather than look more closely at the main causes of each category of injury within a company in order to identify where procedures need to be improved upon and training increased.
In fact, the need for continuous training cannot be overstated. Yes, accidents can occur under the tightest of safety conditions, but according to the American Society of Safety Engineers,’99 per cent of workplace accidents are preventable’, with the majority caused by complacency, carelessness, incompetence due to less than adequate safety training or lack of skills.
Now none of this is to imply that companies are doing a lousy job, but if it is in fact true that workplace injuries are almost entirely preventable, then an airtight approach is essential.
Getting it right
It’s always worth highlighting some examples of companies going above and beyond to protect their employees, so a quick look at two of these, starting with American soft drink giant Coca-Cola, which recently saw its ‘lost-time incident rate’ fall from 4.1 incidents per 200,000 hours worked in 2010 to 1.9 in 2014.
The Coca-Cola safety programme – and many others like it – are based on a core set of health and safety principles put in place to manage known risks and safeguard employee wellbeing. To ensure these principles stay fresh in the minds of all relevant employees, Coca-Cola runs intensive new starter and period refresher workshops, overseen by the Quality, Safety & Environment capability team.
Another organisation that has made headlines over the years for its efforts on the workplace safety front is Schneider Electric, a French multinational energy company. Schneider, which invests heavily in measures aimed at creating a culture of safety to eliminate any hazards that may cause an employee harm, has seen tremendous returns on its investment.
Specifically, the company saw its injury rate drop from 3.6 per 100 full-time workers to 0.5 over a 10-year period – which translated to 900 fewer staff members injured overall. What’s more, the energy firm estimates it is realising annual savings in excess of $15m in terms of direct costs relating to injury reduction.
Why health and safety programmes matter
A study published in the December 2014 edition of Science Daily highlighted the effectiveness of an incentive-based, educational style safety programme by looking at two dairy plants – one with a safety programme in place and one without. The results showed that the difference in workplace accidents between the two was a very significant 75 per cent.
For lack of a better phrase, this one really is a no-brainer. While the money savings to a corporation are an obvious benefit and must be mentioned, strong workplace safety procedures and training should first and foremost be about protecting the employee. With literally hundreds of millions of workplace accidents occurring around the world annually, we can only imagine how many families are very seriously affected on a daily basis by this issue.
Mark Adams is the founder and chief executive officer of Anglo Arabian Healthcare.
Mark Adams ; Gulf Business ; May 21, 2016