Where is Safety during the Tough Times?

At work when the #$&@ hits the fan does your safety program go the way of the Dodo bird? In too many organizations when things get tough, one of the first programs cut is safety. Managers somehow think the money or effort saved by cutting the safety program will help the organization make it through the tough time. Furthermore, they are not often interested in being persuaded otherwise.

Let me share an example with you. A previous employer needed to make significant cuts to balance the next year’s budget. One of cuts the Chief of Staff called for was the payroll of the Safety Technician in the office. The Safety Manager explained the results of cutting the Safety Technician and the work he did would result in lower accident rates and fewer accident reports, but that did not mean the accidents were not occurring. The Chief of Staff said the following in a staff meeting, “If it comes down to a plumber or a safety specialist to meet the budget the safety specialist is gone.” The decision was made. The Safety Technician was terminated, and the Safety Manager was directed not to do the work of this position. The result was that the accident rates of the organization went down dramatically.  The Chief of Staff thought he was a genius and told the Safety Manager so. The Chief of Staff chose to forget what the Safety Manager had told him about the result.

The accidents were still occurring, but there was no one to keep the accident reporting program working. As time passed, the accidents continued unabated and finally a fatal accident occurred. During the accident investigation, it came to light that accidents were not being properly reported and that the number of accidents had in fact been increasing. This increase had also raised the risk for a fatal accident. This cut was not the cause, but a contributing factor.

We cannot know for sure if the Safety Technician had been left in place that the fatal accident would not have occurred. What we do know is that if accident reporting would have been monitored and the increase in accidents and the corresponding increase in risk recognized that this oversight would have made the risks known to organizational officials who could have made informed decisions. These informed decisions could have increased the potential that workers would have followed procedures and likely prevented the fatal accident.

“All too many companies, however, don’t see the value of safety officers until it’s too late—and it’s up to the safety professional to change that by providing an ongoing reminder of safety’s value to the company’s financial and employee health” (Selling, 2015). Safety is one of those programs that may share in budget cuts, however, when cuts are suggested all must understand what can happen when the safety program is reduced.

An article in Industrial Safety and Health News (Ten, 2015) identified ten areas where safety programs might be vulnerable:

  1. Consultants
  2. Staff
  3. Hazard Recognition
  4. Repairs
  5. Hazard Reporting
  6. Safety Meeting
  7. Safety Fairs
  8. Training
  9. Personal Protective Equipment
  10. Awards and Prizes

I experienced the cut in hazard reporting in my example. I know from experience that this list is accurate. The time to sell safety to the C-suites is now. What can you do to prevent damage to the safety program in tough times?

  • Do not wait until tough times to try to convince anyone how important safety is. Their minds will be hard to convince in the heat of tough times.
  • Ensure the safety budget is well known and managers understand how important the budget is.
  • Focus on the vulnerable areas listed earlier.
  • Give more emphasis to labor because it is the most expensive item in a budget. That makes the salaries for safety professionals especially tempting.
  • Take every opportunity to sell the savings safety makes for the organization.

By taking these steps you can keep the cost and benefits of the safety program in the minds of those who make the decision in your organization. This will help when the #$&@ hits the fan.

Bibliography:

Ten Targets for Safety Budget Cuts (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ishn.com/articles/84133-ten-targets-for-safety-budget-cuts

Selling the Value of Safety to the Corporate Suite. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.workplacemagazine.com/Ezine/FullStory.aspx?EzineDataID=1652

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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