Your small business is growing steadily. You've won two new contracts and have no where to go but up. Then one of your key employees slips and injures her back on the job. She won't be able to work for at least six months. How will your business manage without her?
If you're like most small business owners, workplace safety isn't a high priority - not until there's an accident. And then it can be too late.
Workers compensation now accounts for 50 percent of medical care costs. You can help prevent accidents and control workers compensation costs by developing and implementing a safety program in your company. The following Best Practices guide, which was compiled by The Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, can help you develop and maintain a safety program for your business. The guidelines are reprinted with permission from the Chubb Group from their booklet, The Rewards of Managing Risk; A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Managers.*
Best Management Practices
- Make safety a priority This may be as simple as sending a letter to all employees outlining your plans to make safety as important as quality. Your employees should believe just as strongly as you do in safety.
- Hire the safest employees. In the interview process, get a sense of how prospective employees feel about a total commitment to safety. Have they worked in other organizations where safety is a top priority? Always make the prospect aware of the physical demands of the job.
- Review your workers compensation losses. Ask your insurance carrier for a list of all of your workers compensation claims for the past 3-5 years, and analyze them for trends. Note the type of injury, the job the employee was performing when hurt, the name of the employee and the equipment or tools being used. Focus on improving the common causes that are responsible for the greatest number of your claims.
- Get all employees involved in the safety effort. Solicit employee suggestions on what they think can be done to prevent accidents. Then take action on these suggestions.
- Know the laws that affect safety. Many businesses have regulations imposed on them by state and federal agencies Your state's insurance department or labor department may have employer requirements related to workers compensation such as mandatory safety programs, the posting of employee rights under workers compensation and the provision of medical services. OSHA has several volumes of rules and regulations that may affect your business. You should contact your trade association, chamber of commerce or state business and industry council to get a listing of codes and regulations that are specific to your state and industry.
Hazard Identification and Control
The identification of workplace hazards is critical to establishing a workplace safety program. There are a number of reasons to document the hazards that exist in your business:
As the nature of business changes, so do the hazards of the operations. For example, who would have thought that operating a typewriter could cause an injury? With the advent of computers, a major type of injury in an office is now carpal tunnel syndrome.
Identifying and documenting hazards also uncovers the need for employee training in some areas. Using experienced employees to identify hazards and suggest controls can be valuable in establishing a team concept in your business.
Various methods can be used to establish a regular inspection program. Checklists and flowcharts are just two ways to get started. See the reference section of this guide for sources that contain examples.
Here is a list of questions you should include on a form you should adapt for your specific operations:
- Are employees trained in the safe handling of chemicals such as acids, caustics, etc.?
- Is personal protective equipment provided, used, maintained and accompanied by appropriate training?
- Have you inventoried the chemicals used in your business? They change often, and you need to get material safety data for each of them. OSHA requires that you have a written Hazard Communication Program that details what you should do to manage chemical hazards.
- Are eye wash stations and safety showers provided in areas where required?
- Are all work areas properly illuminated?
- Do you provide time for cleanup? Are containers provided to collect waste during the day?
- Are combustible scrap, debris and waste stored safely and removed from the worksite promptly?
- Do all employees take initiative to keep their worksite organized and common areas clean?
Manual Material Handling
- Is there safe clearance for equipment through aisles and doorways?
- Are dollies and lift trucks provided for frequent and heavy loads? Is the equipment properly maintained?
- Have loads been reduced or provisions made to reduce the distance of lifts?
- Have employees been trained in proper lifting techniques and are they being used?
Slips and Falls
- Is spilled material cleaned up immediately?
- Are wet surfaces covered with nonslip material?
- Are standard guardrails provided wherever aisle or walkway surfaces are elevated more than 30 inches above any adjacent floor or the ground?
- Are aisles and passageways kept clear?
- Do employees wear slip-resistant footwear where appropriate?
- Are all exits marked and operable at all times?
- Have employees been trained in proper fire evacuation procedures?
- Are fire extinguishers mounted in readily accessible locations and maintained?
- Is your fire department well acquainted with your facilities, their locations and specific hazards?
- Are security cameras and mirrors placed in locations that would deter robbers or provide greater security for employees?
- Have you considered all areas in which your employees would be subject to violent acts by customers, uninvited guests or fellow employees?
- Is access and freedom of movement within the workplace restricted to only those who have a legitimate reason for being there?
- Have employees, supervisors, and managers been trained to recognize warning signs of potential workplace violence?
Tools and Equipment
- Are all tools and equipment (both company- and employee-owned) used by employees at their workplace in good condition?
- Are appropriate safety glasses, face shields, etc., worn while using hand tools or operating equipment that might produce flying material or be subject to breakage?
- Are power tools used with the correct shields, guards or attachments recommended by the manufacturer?
- Are all cord-connected, electrically operated tools and equipment effectively grounded or of the approved double insulated type?
- Where machinery is used, have appropriate guards been provided to prevent injury to the employee? Are those guards kept in place and maintained?
- Do all employees who drive a company vehicle have their driving records checked on an annual basis?
- Are driver and vehicle files maintained, subject to commercial Driver's License regulations?
- Have employees been instructed in the importance of safety as a requirement of their job?
- Is a regular maintenance program in force and documented for all company-owned or leased vehicles?
Managing the Human Hazards
- It is estimated that 85-90% of accidents are in some way by the unsafe actions of people. This emphasizes the importance of managing the actions or behaviors of your employees in order to reduce the potential of injuries and increase safe behavior. The behaviors and lifestyles of employees will greatly influence their safety. Simple techniques used by business owners to manage their employees' safe behaviors:
- Observe employees as they work and identify both the safe and unsafe behaviors.
- Focus on the things employees do that are right or safe and provide immediate and positive feedback. This will help employees recognize what is good about their performance and reinforce this behavior.
- Those actions that are unsafe or undesired need to be brought to employees' attention. Tell them what the problem is, what the consequences could be and provide guidance on how to improve. If they fail to correct, other issues may be responsible such as literacy, language, substance abuse or personal conflict. Be prepared to use outside agencies to assist you.
- Encourage employees to spot unsafe actions or conditions and take part in correcting them. If you set a good example, they will know it is important and contribute.
- Celebrate good safety performance by individuals and the company. Include safety as a measure of your company's success and, at least once a year, communicate how your company has done in meeting the goals you have set.
What to Do in the Event of an Accident
In spite of your best intentions, an accident may occur. Part of your effort at controlling workers compensation costs should be aimed at "post-accident" cost control. The procedures you establish to handle accidents can be simple and inexpensive, and in many cases, can greatly decrease the cost of workers compensation claims.
- Emergency numbers. All phones should be posted with emergency phone numbers. Supervisors should be trained in the procedures to follow when an injury occurs.
- Medical facilities. Know where the nearest emergency room is located, and visit it yourself. If a clinic or doctor's office is available, make sure you have the right to direct your employees to a doctor. In some states, the employee has the right to choose his or her own doctor. Know what your state requires, and post the appropriate doctors as required.
- First aid. Look at the number of employees, where they work and the type of injuries they might incur. Provide proper first aid supplies, and make sure someone is available who is trained and will volunteer to assist. Ask your company doctor to recommend what supplies you need.
- Claim notification. Quick reporting of injuries to your workers compensation carrier is the first step in controlling the cost of an accident. If possible, report the injury by phone or fax to your insurance carrier within the first hour a*er it occurs. Be prepared to offer the information the claim professional needs to process the claim and coordinate the medical services.
- Communication. Keep in touch with the injured employee and the claim professional. The more you are in touch with both parties, the more you will be able to keep the claim under control and out of the hands of attorneys.
- Back to work. Try to work with the employees to get them back to work as soon as possible. Work is a good environment, and if you provide a light-duty job for a temporary period of time, it can actually help reduce the time of recovery and reduce the total cost of the injury. Your claim professional and treating physician will help you consider suitable work that is within the limitations specified by the physician.
- Investigate. If left undetermined, the causes of your injuries will continue to add cost to your operations. After an injury or near miss, take time to ask basic questions and determine the immediate and primary causes of the injury. The rule of thumb is to ask the question, "Why?" at least three times in order to get to the basic cause. Be constructive, and don't look for someone to blame. Focus on finding and removing the causes.
The Role of Management
Your role in creating a safe work environment is critical. Management cannot exclude itself from the safety rules imposed on others. Set aside funds in your budget for safety-related supplies or equipment so you will have them before an injury occurs. Leadership from management on safety issues will go a long way toward encouraging expected behaviors.
The active involvement of your employees is also important, especially in smaller businesses where time and resources are limited. Organize a safety committee or inspection teams.
Reprinted from "The Rewards of Managing Risk: A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Managers," published by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. Working with independent agents and brokers, the member insurers of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies provide a full range of insurance and risk management services for individuals, homes and businesses. A free copy of the booklet is available from Chubb by calling 1-800-36CHUBB.