Implementing a formal, systematic safety program will benefit you, your employees, your clients, and your greater community.
“We always put safety first.” It’s easy to say, but does your firm really put these words into action? And more importantly, why do they need to?
On one level, it’s easy to see why being safe should be a top priority – unsafe conditions in our industry can have devastating consequences, up to and including loss of human life. But it’s not always obvious that a firm needs a formal, systematic safety program in place. However, we increasingly see that that’s exactly what needs to happen to really keep everyone safe – from employees to clients to our greater communities.
Why should an AEC firm invest in a comprehensive, strategic safety program?
- People come first. While safety has historically been based on rules, regulations, and discipline, we must not forget the underlying purpose of the business: the people. The first priority of a safety program should be the wellbeing of your people.
- Clients care. More and more, clients want to know about a firm’s safety program. If firms do not have a strong program or have poor safety statistics, it will become increasingly difficult for that firm to find work.
- Injuries are costly. If you want your firm to remain strong – both financially and culturally – reducing injuries is a necessity. In the long run, it’s more cost efficient to prevent injuries and illness through investments, such as proper training and equipment, than it is to pay for losses. From a cultural perspective, injuries impact employees’ quality of life and are terrible for employee morale. Reducing and eliminating injuries is an important part of building a strong culture, which in turn will help retain your workforce.
- It’s not just about us. We have the ability to positively influence the safety of our clients and all those who use our products. Our actions can have real, far-reaching, positive effects. It is our responsibility to keep everyone safe to the best of our ability, not just our employees.
You may be thinking, OK, great. Now we’ve established the importance of having a safety program. But how can a firm achieve this? To successfully implement a safety program, there are several considerations to keep in mind:
- Cultivate a strong culture. Building a strong safety culture is key, but you can’t have a strong safety culture without a strong company culture. At its core, building a strong company culture is about making your employees feel valued. If your employees feel that their safety is important to the company, they’re going to be more inclined to comply with policies and procedures to keep themselves and others safe.
- Control yourself. While the environments we work in are often out of our control, what we can control is our own safety culture. This can be accomplished through trainings, teaching people to have an awareness of their surroundings, encouraging employees to report concerns, and rewarding positive behaviors. We can only control ourselves, so let’s do that to the best of our ability.
- Understand the “why.” Rather than simply enforcing rules, a safety program should focus on employee wellbeing. Educate employees on the reason behind the rule and the potential safety hazards of complacency.
- Focus on leading indicators. While lagging indicators are important to look at as well – such as incident frequency, severity, and experience modification rates – these are indicators that tell us where we’ve been and do nothing to influence prevention. Leading indicators, meanwhile, look forward and give an understanding of what you’re doing to improve: Are employees receiving the appropriate trainings? Are your staff coming forward to report concerns and near hits? Are the reported concerns being addressed? Do audits take place? These are things you can actively change moving forward, improving employee safety and culture.
- Understand what you’re facing. Having a crystal-clear understanding of the hazards your employees face, and subsequently addressing them through discussions and training, is key. How can you attempt to mitigate something if you don’t have a clear conception of its causes and effects? It’s important not to assume you are aware of all the hazards your employees face. To truly understand this, you must spend time with your employees, build their trust, listen to their concerns, and address those concerns.
- Comply, comply, comply. There is of course a large compliance aspect to safety. Numerous agencies, such as OSHA, have regulations that firms are legally required to follow. It’s important that your company has someone who is familiar with these requirements and updates to keep you on the straight and narrow, and ultimately keep you safe – hey, these rules are in place for a reason!
All AEC firms can benefit from a comprehensive safety program. It’s important to remember what’s really at stake when we talk about safety – the health and well-being of our people.
Zac Elliott is Mead & Hunt’s resource for workplace safety knowledge, training and preplanning. Through communication with employees, various trainings and preplanning, he strives to use a team effort in determining potential hazards and mitigating them to the greatest extent possible. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.