Management Commitment and Safety

We’ll see that reducing accidents often boils down to reducing accident-causing conditions and accident-causing acts but do not miss the forest for the trees. Telling supervisors to watch for spills and telling employees to work safely is futile if everyone in the firm believes management isn’t serious about safety. Safety starts with and depends on top management commitment.

Historically, for instance, DuPont’s accident rate has been much lower than that of the chemical industry as a whole. This good safety record is partly due to an organizational commitment to safety, which is evident in the following description:

One of the best examples in setting the highest possible priority for safety takes place at a DuPont Plant in Germany. Each morning at the DuPont Polyester and Nylon Plant the director and his assistants meet at 8:45 to review the past 24 hours. The first matter they discuss is not production, but safety. Only after they have examined reports of accidents and near misses and satisfied themselves that corrective action has been taken do they move on to look at output, quality and cost matters.

All employees should see convincing evidence of top management’s commitment. This requires top management’s being personally involved in safety activities; giving safety matters high priority in meetings and production scheduling; giving the company safety officer high rank and status; and including safety training in new workers’ training. Ideally, safety is an integral pat of the system woven into each management competency and a part of everyone’s day-to-day responsibilities. In addition:

Institutionalize management’s commitment with a safety policy, and publicize it. This should emphasize the firm will do everything practical to eliminate or reduce accidents and Injuries.

Analyze the number of accidents and safety incidents and then set specific achievable safety goals. Georgia Pacific reduced its workers’ compensation costs with a policy that forces managers to halve accidents or forfeit 30% of their bonuses.

Committing to safety is not just a case of humanitarian (although that is important). Safety programs also pay for themselves. One safety program at a Missouri ABB Business Services plant resulted in total OSHA cases reduced 80% in one year; OSHA lost time rate rate reduced 86% in one year; and $560,000 contributed to profit. One study of two organizations concluded at their safety activities paid for themselves by a ratio of 10 to 1, just in direct savings of workers’ compensation expenses over a period of four years.

What causes accidents?

There are three basic causes of workplace accidents: chance occurrences, unsafe conditions, and unsafe acts on the part of employees. Chance occurrences such as walking past a plate-glass window just as someone hits a ball through it are more or less beyond management’s control. We will therefore focus on unsafe focus on unsafe conditions and unsafe acts.

Unsafe Conditions and other Work Related conditions:

Unsafe conditions are one main cause of accidents. They include such things as:

1. Improperly guarded equipment
2. Defective equipment
3. Hazardous procedures in, on, or around machines or equipment
4. Unsafe storage – congestion, overloading
5. Improper illumination – glare, insufficient light
6. Improper ventilation – insufficient air change, impure air source.

The basic remedy here is to identify and eliminate the unsafe conditions. OSHA standards address these mechanical and physical accident-causing conditions. HR and the firm’s top managers should play central role in and accept responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions. However, as the employer’s front line managers, supervisors play a crucial role in this process too.

While accidents can happen anywhere, there are some special danger zones. About one third of industrial accidents occur around forklift trucks, wheelbarrows and other handling and lifting areas. The most serious accidents usually occur near metal and woodworking machines and saws, or around transmission machinery like gears, pulleys, and flywheels. Falls on stairs, ladders, walkways and scaffolds are the third most common cause of industrial accidents. Hand tools like chisels and screwdrivers and electrical equipment (extension cords, electric droplights, and so on) are other major causes of accidents. In addition to unsafe conditions, three other work-related factors contribute to accidents: the job itself, the work schedule, and the psychological climate of the workplace.

Certain jobs are inherently more dangerous, For example, the job of crane operator results in about three times more accident-related hospital visits than does the job of a supervisor.

Work schedules and fatigue also affect accident rates. Accident rates usually don’t increase too noticeably during the first five or six hours of the workday. But after that, the accident rate increases faster than the increase in the number of hours worked. This is due partly to fatigue and partly to the fact accidents occur more often during night shifts.

Unfortunately, some of the most important working-condition-related causes of accidents are not as obvious, because they involve workplace psychology. For example, one researcher reviewed the official hearings regarding fatal accidents suffered by offshore oil workers in the British sector of the North Sea. A strong pressure within the organization to complete the work as quickly as possible, employees who are under a great deal of stress, and a poor safety climate – for instance, supervisors who never mention safety were a few of the psychological conditions leading to accidents. Similarly accidents occur more frequently in plants with a high seasonal layoff rate and where there is hostility among employees, many garnished wages, and blighted living conditions.