Professionals in the safety and health industry are concerned with developing what they call a safety culture in the workplace. Basically, this is a pervasive feeling, shared by each employee of an organization, that employees are responsible for their own safety and health and for the safety and health of every other worker in the organization.
This feeling is grounded on each individual’s conviction that he or she has a right to a safe and healthful workplace, a conviction reinforced by the organization’s placing an actual value on safety. Only with sincere commitment from management and serious involvement by employees can safety and health programs be successful.
The key term here is value, defined as a principle, a standard, or belief considered worthwhile and desirable. A safe and healthful workplace should be treated in a way that parallels more familiar values — such as free speech, the right to assembly, and even religion — in that safety and health are permanent parts of the organization’s culture and the environment, not transitory issues that are important at some times but not at others.
The Need for a Safety and Health Program
Every organization needs some sort of a program to prevent injuries and illnesses on its premises. Even complete compliance with OSHA’s guidelines will not eliminate all injuries and illness from the workplace because the workplace is filled with people and people make mistakes.
However, physical safeguards, training, proper maintenance, and good management may help ensure the safety and health of most of an organization’s employees.
Benefits of a Safety and Health Program
Obviously, following OSHA guidelines should result in fewer injuries and illnesses in the workplace, but more rewards will result from a strong safety and health program.
Workers’ compensation costs may be lowered, employee morale and work efficiency may be improved, operating costs will be lowered, and profits will be higher. Accidents are expensive. They add to workers’ compensation and medical costs, they make the organization have to repair or replace equipment, they slow production, and they may require the organization to hire and train new workers. These are just the material costs. The pain and suffering that accidents cause employees and their families can be even more damaging.
Once a safety and health program is in place and running, evaluate it by periodically asking the following questions — the more “Yes” answers, the better the program:
- Are the program’s goals in writing and understandable by everyone in the workplace?
- Do the goals relate directly to the company’s overall safety and health policy?
- Does senior management support the goals?
- Have achievable objectives related to specific deficiencies been stated?
- Are the objectives clearly assigned to responsible individuals?
- Is there a measurement system to indicate progress toward fulfilling the objectives?
- Can the objectives be explained to everyone in the workplace?
- Does everyone in the workplace know how progress toward fulfilling objectives will be measured?
- Is everyone in the workforce an active participant in reaching safety and health goals?
An organization should review all systems that contribute to the safety and health program — from the program’s initial objectives through the training programs implemented and the emergency procedures set in place to the medical program developed. As a program review identifies weaknesses or needs, the basis for new safety and health objectives emerges.
Regular review of the health program is essential to achieving a safe and healthful workplace. High-quality programs must continuously improve to keep up with the changing nature of the organization and to ensure that an organization’s real commitment to the safety and health of its employees is fulfilled.