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Safety Is No Accident
Part One
See also:
Safety Is No Accident — Part Two

very year, 3.0 million workers in the United States are injured in job-related accidents. The Social Security Administration reported that employers and their insurers paid more than $39.0 billion in workers' compensation benefits in 1991, i.e., approximately $438 per covered employee. This is not chump change! Job-related accidents are big business entailing immense economic and human costs. And a major portion of these costs fall upon the back of the owner/manager of the emerging business.

          Motivating Safety in the Workplace is the summary of a national survey of 3,200 owner/ managers of emerging and medium-sized businesses on preventing injuries and promoting safety in the workplace conducted jointly by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) and the Education Foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). The poll encompassed businesses of all sizes and industrial categories, but directed special emphasis to larger small firms (more than 100 employees) and to those in the manufacturing sector. While this profile may not totally exemplify the "typical" emerging firm, the findings of this survey still appear to be informative and quite representative.

          Owner/managers of emerging businesses seem to be about equally divided over whether workplace safety is an important problem demanding their time and attention. Workplace safety is a significant problem or one of the most serious problems in the view of 45 percent of the respondents, whereas 54 percent of those polled consider workplace safety as a minor problem or not a problem at all. (Although not reported fully, this divergence appears to be industry-based.)

          The majority of these owner/managers (73 percent) think their employees have a strong or somewhat strong commitment to workplace safety, and their employees exert considerably more control over the frequency of workplace accidents than they do. Almost half (46 percent) found their employees exercising the greatest influence on the frequency of workplace accidents in marked contrast with only four percent finding management to be responsible. The balance of respondents found responsibility to be shared equally. (Curiously, since employees are all presumably drawn from the same labor pool, it is difficult to attribute the significant differences in safety records between comparable companies within the same industries to employee motivation alone; possibly, employee attitudes toward work-place safety are simply another sign of management effectiveness.)

          Both "the carrot and the stick" are employed commonly to address safety-related workplace activities. To foster safe workplace practices, 30 percent of the respondents reported offering rewards and incentives to their employees during the past five years. Almost double that number of owner/ managers (57 percent) noted disciplining or firing an employee for safety violations during this same period.

          The 3,200 participants in this survey each averaged instituting more than five distinct actions to enhance safety in the workplace over the past five years. The six most frequent actions, each implemented by a majority of the respondents, included: conducting safety-related training (other than for drivers), publication of the workplace safety rules, installing safety controls/devices on equipment, undertaking in-depth inspections for hazards, supplying personal safety equipment, and acquiring safer equipment. In response to the question which action(s) were most effective, the owner/managers most frequently identified safety-related training, furnishing protective equipment, and having a working safety committee.

          Most of the owner/ managers polled (60 percent) reported that the job descriptions of one or more of their employees specifically included monitoring and enforcing safety issues in the workplace. And 79 percent of the respondents in this survey did have written workplace safety rules in place.

          While not explicitly raised in this survey, the question we must address is, "What is the role and responsibility of the owner/ manager of the emerging business in maintaining and improving safety in the workplace?" The answer: "It's a basic part of his/her job." A safe workplace occurs because this is an important priority with the owner/managers that is expressed and communicated through what is done, not by what is said. A safe workplace can rarely be established through employee initiatives. When safety is an afterthought, the likelihood of on-the-job accidents can increase dramatically. However, the unmistakable commitment of the owner/ managers of the emerging business to maintaining the highest level of workplace safety inevitably assures higher levels of workplace productivity and profitability.

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