Assessing risk management and improving safety in the workplace are key to implementing productive, cost-effective, and efficient operations. Facility managers who see safety as a necessity rather than a burden are more likely to avoid safety-related costs in the long run - whether it's covering costs for paid leave due to injury or paying fines for safety violations. Additionally, safety-conscious employers also are providing their employees with a safer environment, which can translate into increased productivity and higher morale.
While safety is a priority that should never be delayed, companies may look at the current economic situation and decide that now is not the time to invest in anything, particularly a safety improvement, that doesn't immediately improve the bottom line. Actually, the timing is crucial. It only takes one accident to put a significant dent in company resources, especially if a lawsuit claiming company negligence ensues - and that's something companies need to avoid in a time of budgetary belt-tightening.
In developing newer products, we have reviewed safety in the workplace and its importance to facility managers - particularly with respect to falls in the workplace. To little surprise, safety was a top concern. More than 90 percent of facility managers and building owners said safety was "very important" when selecting building maintenance equipment. Safety also was the most important feature these decision-makers used to evaluate new equipment.
A look at workplace statistics highlights the reasoning for such concern about safety. There were 835 fatal falls in the workplace in 2007, according to preliminary numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. That is the bureau's highest number of reported fatal falls in a single year and an increase of 39 percent since the census was started in 1992.
More than 90 percent of the fatal falls were reportedly due to falls to lower levels, which would include falls from ladders, roofs, or scaffolding. Consequently, ladders, scaffolding, and fall protection were listed in OSHA's top 10 most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2008. Similarly, fall protection and scaffolding were among the standards for which OSHA assessed the highest penalties in the same period.
The most immediate and cost-effective way of dealing with these daunting statistics head on is to review your employees' work processes and your company's safety procedures. Start by assessing
accidents and injuries that have occurred in the past, and then think ahead to those incidents that you know can be prevented through revised procedures or regular safety training. Also, review the tools, materials, and equipment used in your operations and strongly consider replacing them with safer alternatives.
Companies need to understand that capital lost due to poor safety policies, unsafe equipment, improper safety supervision, and poor working conditions is capital that could have been saved by proactively addressing safety in the workplace. Companies that try to bypass investments in safety might later be faced with losses due to fines, compensation, and decreased productivity. The potential for strained customer relations and negative publicity, of course, cannot be quantified.
It is impossible to eliminate every potential mishap imaginable on a job site, but by evaluating safety in all of your operations and implementing improvements you can avoid addressing safety issues via hindsight. This includes providing proper employee training, safety-focused educational programs, a clean and safe work environment, safer equipment and protective wear, and companywide emergency preparedness plans. Safety improvements can come with upfront costs, but they can pay dividends.
Jeff Ford is senior manager of marketing communications for JLG Industries, Inc., www.jlg.com, which is a leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of access equipment. He can be reached at 240-420-8745 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.