A safe workplace isn't a matter of drilling the rules into employees in order to avoid accidents and keep your policy numbers down. Safety should be a core value of your company, interwoven into your mission statement as well as procedures and policies that reflect the essence of your business.

It's no secret that your company's safety record has a direct impact on your workers' compensation insurance policy rates, but you may not realize that your safety record will affect your insurance premium rates for three years. That means one on the job injury can raise your rates for the next 36 months, even if there isn't another accident. You also may not realize is there are indirect costs for every on the job accident: loss of productivity, the costs of hiring, training, retraining, and overtime hours due to a key employee that is unable to work.

Government studies show that for each dollar spent on workplace safety employers see between three and 10 dollars savings in the long run when you factor in both direct and indirect costs, so it makes good business sense to make your workplace safer. How can you do that? By making safety a priority and an integral part of your business from top to bottom so it becomes a shared vision and goal of every employee and a part of your company's culture.

Steps to a safety culture

There are specific steps you can take to implement an effective safety program throughout your company. Safety on the job isn't just a matter of setting rigid rules to prevent accidents. It's more about instilling a way of thinking about how you work and instilling safe work practices in your employees' daily work habits. While every business is different in both size and scope, here are the key components to making safety a top priority in your company:

  • Hiring: emphasize safety during the hiring process so your new employees know they will be expected to learn and practice safe work habits.
  • Training: all new employees should have proper training for their jobs before they begin to work.
  • Education: both new and current employees should have ongoing education on safe practices, safety measures, and the rules of safety on the job.
  • Monitoring and enforcing: make sure the safety measures are being followed, machinery and equipment is being used properly, and all safety procedures are observed. Enforce consequences for failures in following the rules.
  • Assess and discuss: make safety an ongoing part of your company talks, employee meetings, evaluations, and other staff interactions. Notice what is working and what isn't and adjust your policies to correct deficiencies.
  • Supply preventive equipment: safety shoes, glasses, gloves, and other personal protective equipment should be available to all employees as a requirement when needed for safe practices.
  • Review and identify: schedule regular reviews of your safety measures and practices to identify weaknesses and adjust your policies as needed.
  • Investigate: if there is an injury you should review the incident to find out how it happened, why, and whether it could have been prevented.
  • Rewards: recognize your employees for accident-free work periods and reward those who strive to initiate training and other safety measures.
  • Stay aware: keep up to date on injury statistics and accident trends in your industry so you can take preventive steps in the same areas.

Remember that safety on the job is comprehensive and should be specific to your own business. A warehouse using forklift trucks won't need the same safety rules or equipment as a grocery store, and an accounting agency will need a different safety program than a landscaper. Regardless of the type of business you own it is vital that you make safety a priority that works for you and your team of employees.

How to promote safety in different industries

As previously stated, every industry and business will need their own safety program that addresses their specific needs. That being said, there are a wide variety of methods you can adapt to your own company needs in order to educate your employees about safety procedures in your industry. Here are some examples of industry needs and methods of training safety procedures:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the U.S. Department of Labor division dedicated to worker safety on the job. It should be one of your biggest tools in developing your business safety strategy regardless of the industry. Here are some training programs available from OSHA:

  • OSHA has an online Hazard Identification Training Tool that allows employers to identify safety issues and the core concepts of hazard identification in the workplace. Designed specifically for small business owners and their employees, this training program can be easily implemented in your employee training program and offers four different business scenarios: Emergency Room, Construction, Manufacturing, and OSHA Visual Inspection Training.
  • On-site consultation: OSHA offers on-site consultations to medium and small businesses throughout the country and will give you free confidential advice on all safety aspects of your company.
  • Outreach training: OSHA offers hazard awareness training classes for employees. Training is offered online or in training facilities and is also available in Spanish.
  • Besides OSHA training you can look for guidance from sources specific to your trade. Because each type of industry has its own organizations and trade publications geared to their individual needs you can find excellent safety resources that will help you individualize your safety program.
  • State Programs: Each state has safety resources for specific industries. For example, the Maine Department of Labor has dozens of safety programs and checklists for a wide variety of industries as well as guidelines for creating a safe workplace, safety tips, and many other resources. Look for your state's Department of Labor to find what is available in your industry sector.
  • The National Safety Council is dedicated to safety on the job, regardless of the job and offers a wide variety of training programs.

Safety even in ‘non-dangerous’ work environments

While we often think of on the job injuries as something that happens to construction workers and truck drivers the truth is accidents can and do happen in every type of industry. A full 30 percent of workers' compensation claims are from strains and sprains, and that can happen when an accountant moves a chair or a salesperson lifts a box the wrong way. Take a look at the top five workers' compensation claims and you'll see they can probably happen easily in your industry, too:

  • Strains and sprains accounted for 30 percent of all claims; think of how many people you know that have strained their back lifting an object.

  • Punctures or cuts caused 19 percent of claims; many office workers get this type of injury every day.

  • Contusions (bruises) made up a full 12 percent of injuries.

  • Inflammation (swelling) was the injury for 5 percent of all claims.

  • Fractures (broken bones) accounted for 5 percent of claims.

As you can see, any of the above injuries could happen when an employee slips on a wet floor or falls down a step. That's why it's so important for you to identify safety issues and educate your employees before an accident happens.

If the majority of your business takes place in a non-dangerous environment you still need to look for hazards. It doesn't take much to strain or sprain your lower back, so proper lifting techniques should be top of the list. Slip and fall accidents are the second biggest hazard, so make sure floors are dry and stairs are safe and well lit. Falling objects cause a lot of accidents, so shelf storage should be checked regularly. Repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel are also common in non-hazardous industries, so look for ergonomic keyboards and similar solutions. If your employees travel as part of their jobs you should make driving safety top of the list.

Safety in a non-dangerous work environment is just as important as in a hazardous business, mainly because employees don't see their workplace as dangerous. Nonetheless accidents happen in offices too, so a safety program will still be vital to your business success.

Ongoing safety training

Once you implement your safety program don't just check it off your to-do list. Safety on the job must be an ongoing program, so plan to evaluate and adjust your safety regime on a regular basis. Once a month or once a quarter you should check through your safety measures and add more where needed. In addition, your employees should have a regular training schedule to keep them up to date on safe work practices. You can do this is a variety of ways to make it more interesting:

  • Have a safety trivia contest

  • Print safety tips on paychecks

  • Have speakers in once a month to talk about safety

  • Set up a reward system for specific numbers of consecutive safe (accident free) days of work

In addition, you can set up "safety teams" to identify possible hazards in the workplace. By rotating the position so all employees eventually hold the "safety team" position they will gain a vested interest in promoting safety on the job. It also helps because you'll get a fresh perspective on work conditions that may be overlooked by the same person seeing the same thing month after month.

The main thing to remember is that your safety program should grow with your business. Each step you implement will add to your bottom line, because keeping your employees safe and healthy is good business sense. A solid safety program will grow with your company, and at the same time will help grow your company.

Finding help for your own safety program

As stated above, there are plenty of resources to help you implement a safety program within your company. Besides OSHA and state Department of Labor Departments you can look within your industry organizations for resources. In addition, groups such as the Small Business Association can counsel you on finding safety programs as can your local fire department, county offices, Chamber of Commerce, and similar groups geared towards business owners. A private consultant or your workers' compensation insurance provider can also be consulted for help with your specific business needs.