Your company checks all the compliance boxes. You put the OSHA and DOL posters up in all the right places. You’re pretty proud of the safety orientation you developed for new hires, and they walk confidently into the field. And you somehow find the time to perform and document all of the mandatory inspections required by state and federal OSHA.
Overall, things go pretty well. You have minor incidents now and then, but nothing catastrophic. But you also know that doing the minimum isn’t enough. OSHA standards are a minimum requirement, and they often don’t address critical safety issues specific to your site. If you had to give your organization a grade, you’d give it a “C” — passable but not the best your company can do.
So what can you do? You can make the case to move beyond compliance and emphasizing safety.
Why Compliance is a Grade of “C” in Safety
If you routinely meet OSHA standards, then you’re already doing important work. But at best, you’re getting a “C” on your safety exam. You’re not feeling unprepared when an OSHA inspector comes knocking. Yet, you have a spate of near-misses and incidents that could have been worse. Plus, you’re likely losing money on high premiums and out-of-pocket costs because preventable incidents continue to happen.
As a safety pro, you have an eagle-eye view of the situation. You can see the connection between preventable near misses and those high premiums. And you know how to take the “C” to a “B” and ultimately to an “A.”
So how do you get started?
First, Ask What Your Program Needs to Earn an “A”
You connected the dots, but before you are ready to pitch safety, you need to figure out what’s missing from your current practice. What’s in your compliance-focused program? What do you need to factor in safety as a priority?
Getting from compliance to safety isn’t always a strictly technical exercise. There are a few key characteristics that separate the top of the class from the average. If you want to get an “A” in safety, then you need (at a minimum) employee engagement and a focus on leading indicator data.
One of the most important things you need is employee engagement. The people “at the end of the shovel” are those most impacted by work-related incidents and injuries. But often, they are handed a set of rules to follow that did not include relevant input.
When your program is focused on “C” for compliance, it’s very likely you’re not having organizational-wide conversations about safety.
Their input offers valuable insights that will help you gather the missing pieces. And their input and engagement are a vital part of the puzzle altogether.
Leading Indicator Data
Safety data and compliance data are two different animals. Compliance data is handed to you on an OSHA form: your job is to go out and collect it. Safety data is highly personalized, and more importantly, it must be forward-looking. You want to make changes to your program now, not simply report back on what happened.
Leading indicators can prevent accidents and allow for analysis that shows which areas of your organization have the potential for a high number of incidents. For example, if you’re in construction, you might track these common leading indicators:
- Operational risk
- Safety observations
- On-time corrective action closure
- Site safety committee involvement
If you’re missing the engagement and data components, your company and employees are at risk. You may be able to manage some incidents, but you and your employees won’t have the tools or insights to prevent them. A safety program without these elements means that you won’t see a fundamental change from your compliance-focused program: you will be reactive, trying to fix things after they happen, instead of preventing and mitigating.
Start Building Your Case for Aiming for an “A” in Safety
Now that you know what you need to transition from compliance to safety, it’s time to start building your case.
As safety pros, we tend to think about the human cost: who’s getting hurt and where does it happen most often? How do injuries impact workers’ lives (and the lives of their families)? But as we all know, the team writing you the blank check to level-up your program sees safety as one element of the organization. There’s no safety if there’s no company, which means they need to focus on the bottom line.
So, your next step is to start looking at the financial data. What does it cost the organization to focus on compliance over safety? And what could you save by moving beyond compliance?
Figure Out What Compliance Costs You
Costs come in many forms: the price of sticking to compliance in people and lost-time, the increase in your worker’s comp premiums from a high number of premiums, and the out-of-pocket expenses associated with onsite injuries.
Cost data is the type of information you must arm yourself with as you speak with your executive team. You must lay out the current situation in real numbers and demonstrate the impact it has on the business. For some companies, accidents have serious implications on revenue. A high Ex Mod may prevent your organization from bidding on certain projects. For almost all businesses, the money spent on premium and other associated costs is money you can invest in value-added programs.
Making change is difficult. It’s even harder when you don’t have the right conversations. In fact, it will be nearly impossible. Get the right folks in the room (from finance, HR, EHS, operations, and frontline workers), do your fact-finding, and put together the numbers that will make your management see the tangible benefits of prioritizing safety.
Go Forth and Pitch the Benefits of Being “A”-Rated
Compliance already takes a herculean team effort. It can be very hard for many companies to routinely meet OSHA standards, much less consider exceeding them. So why is all of this important?
Of course, you can lead with safety as a cost-saving activity, meaning safety puts money back into the organization to be reinvested. But your financial case will likely make itself. What you need is buy-in at all levels. So how do you pitch that?
First and foremost, people are the most valuable part of any organization. You have to protect them to continue moving forward. Taking the steps beyond compliance sends a message to your employees (and customers) that you’re committed to safety. Real safety improves morale which increases productivity.
Second, choosing compliance over safety costs your company thousands of dollars. If you don’t actively look for ways to improve safety, you’ll be left with a large bill and little to show for it. Maybe this is on your workers compensation premium, or on the out-of-pocket costs. It can even mean competitiveness: industry-leaders increasingly want to see safety data and choose partners who they know work safely and efficiently.
In the end, a company that chooses safety is more likely to grow its market share compared to organizations that put it on the back burner.
Finally, your company culture will benefit from safety. When you engage employees in safety management, it encourages open dialogue, teamwork, and a greater sense of ownership. Your organization is now empowered to be proactive and seek out solutions to problems before they happen. There’s a real trickle-down effect here that will positively impact every aspect of work without any extra investment.
An “A” in Safety is Worth the Investment
Compliance is mandatory, and although it costs money, it also prevents your organization from fines, some incidents, and a poor reputation. While compliance is important and worth the effort, it only earns your organization a “C” in safety.
Changing how your company manages safety is going to be difficult. It’s also not something you can take on alone. You need the support of many people from your organization before you even consider going to your executive team. The support needed is why it’s so vital to make a compelling case for safety.
Safety benefits everyone at every level of the organization. So, go out and start working towards an “A” in safety. You won’t just get a good report card: you will save money and lives simultaneously. And there’s no better case than that.