Seven Ways to Increase Safety on a Budget

Oklahoma’s staggering economy is causing decision makers in every municipality to look for ways to stretch budget dollars. This means that the safety of your workplace is becoming more important than ever. Workplace injuries are becoming more expensive and in turn affect the “bottom line” of every municipal government.

Sometimes safety isn’t foremost in our minds. For some, a severe injury to an employee is a remote possibility and hardly worth worrying about. For others, the risk of injury seems out of proportion to the financial rewards that can be gained. The justification of this reasoning is “if something happens, insurance will cover it.” Still others believe that there is no way to get the job done safely without spending money they just don’t have.

The belief that municipal decision makers must choose between working safely and maintaining an already strained budget is a wrong paradigm.  Here are seven things decision makers can do to reduce the risk of worker injuries without adding prohibitive cost:

1. Hire Smarter

During boom times it is easy to hire quickly just to get needed personnel onboard. Carefully screening candidates to ensure that they have the skills and experience it takes to be successful in the job lowers your risk of hiring an incompetent worker who is far more likely to get injured.

2. Train

Even a highly skilled and experienced worker should be trained in how you expect the job to be done. If you know there are certain tricks of the trade that make the job safer, be sure to share them with your workers. Counting on common sense to keep workers safe is a recipe for disaster. Common sense isn’t always common practice.

3. Create a Culture of Safe Work Practices

Begin by believing that there is always time to do it safely and that it is never acceptable to work unsafely and then practice what you preach. If you choose productivity over safety the first time the issue is pressed, then you send the wrong message to your employees. You want them to share your vision of a safe workplace and be engaged and active in making that happen. Employees will only support your vision if they believe it’s real.

4. Provide the Right Tools and Equipment

Provide the proper tools and equipment for your employees and then hold them accountable to consistently use them. The cost of equipment such as steel-toed shoes or safety glasses is small compared to the cost of a trauma surgery. Additionally, there is a very strong human drive toward expediency and many employees will risk using the wrong tool or take a short cut to get the job done.   

5. Demonstrate That You Value a Job Done Safely

If you see your “A-team” as the people who get the job done whatever it takes, you may be inadvertently fostering a culture that devalues safety. Offer praise for team members who not only get the job done, but who also offer suggestions for working safely. Be careful about providing incentives for zero-injuries because you may be creating an unintended incentive for zero-reporting which actually increases your risk of injuries.

6. Look for Ways to Get the Job Done More Safely

Reducing risk means reducing uncertainty.  Spend some time with employees brainstorming ways in which the job could be done more safely. Solicit ideas on the safe way to do the job through tailgate or other informal meetings.

7. Remember There Are a Lot of Right Answers

Too often employers see safety as an absolute - either a job is safe or it isn’t, when the truth is, safety is relative. No job is absolutely without risk and therefore no job is completely safe but there are ways of approaching a job that make it safer than doing it another way. Conversely, there is no job that is completely unsafe so we should not shrug off the risky tasks as unavoidable.

Safety can be a hard sell for some employees. Some employees take a fatalistic “something is gonna get you” attitude, while others are willing to take unreasonable, even reckless risks. This behavior affects more than one or two employees. Injury to employees and damage to equipment can have lasting consequences on the whole department and even municipal operations.

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