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on the job injuriesKeeping employees safe and avoiding on-the-job injuries is a top priority for any business. OSHA estimates that employers pay almost $52 billion annually in worker’s compensation alone; that doesn’t even include the costs associated with lost productivity, absenteeism, hiring and training replacement employees, mitigating safety hazards, repairing damaged equipment, and lowered morale. Not to mention, workplace injuries are costly to employees as well. While worker’s compensation and insurance covers most of the expenses, injuries often lead to loss of income, possible loss of livelihood, and reduced quality of life. In short, businesses cannot afford to ignore safety.

While U.S. labor law requires employers to maintain safe workplaces for employees, and to conduct industry and occupation specific safety training, the safest workplaces are those that involve employees themselves in maintaining a culture of safety. Employees bear a certain amount of responsibility for their own health and safety at work, and managers cannot reasonably be expected to identify and mitigate every risk, every moment of every day.

Not only are employees the eyes and ears for safety issues, but when they feel a sense of ownership over the well-being of their co-workers and customers as well as themselves, they are more likely to adhere to safety guidelines and take steps to prevent-on-the-job injuries.

So how do you get employees more involved with safety? By finding creative ways to get them involved with decision-making, soliciting their ideas for improvement, and empowering them to be safety leaders. Doing that doesn’t necessarily mean a series of dull meetings, either — you can actually have some fun and make it enjoyable to think about safety.

Create a Committee

Some people hear the words “safety committee” and automatically conjure up images of the hall monitors of their school years, ready to cite anyone who commits the most minor of infractions. However, a safety committee doesn’t need to be legalistic or punitive.

A safety committee can serve as a sounding board for employee concerns, and be a catalyst for taking action. The safety committee can also develop tools for assessing the overall safety of the workplace, such as checklists to assess the strengths and weaknesses to guide action plans.

The idea is to provide employees with the chance to take ownership over workplace safety, and make decisions based on how people really work each day.

workplace injuriesMake it Personal

Often, employees don’t think about safety because it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to them. Someone who spends most of the day sitting at a desk, for example, is probably not thinking about slip and fall accidents — until she strips over a box of paper left in the hallway and is seriously injured.

To encourage even those employees who have “safe” jobs to make safety a priority, you need to make it personal to them. Why is safety important to them, personally?

One idea from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is to develop a bulletin board on which employees can share the reasons that they want to stay safe. These reasons could include family, friends, hobbies, passions — anything that could be negatively affected by a serious injury. Employees can post photos or words, but the idea is to drive home what’s at stake should an injury occur. Place the bulletin board in a well-traveled area, like the employee break room, to give co-workers a chance to get to know each other a little better, which builds camaraderie among the team.

Create Reporting Mechanisms

Many employees are reluctant to point out safety hazards or to confront co-workers about unsafe work habits for fear of retaliation or developing a reputation for being the “safety police.” However, co-workers are often the first line of defense against injuries, so putting mechanisms in place that allow employees to communicate risk without fear is important.

Another tip from LARA is to implement a system of cards to use in identifying safety risks — and commending those who keep safety a priority. Give employees red (Stop) cards to hand to co-workers that they witness doing something unsafe and green (Go) cards to hand to people they see demonstrating proper safety protocols. Handing someone a card removes some of the potential awkwardness inherent in confronting someone, and opens up the door to a conversation about accident and injury prevention.

Some companies have used the red and green communication cards as part of an overall awareness and incentive program. Tap into your employees’ natural competitiveness and make safety a contest; the individual or group who creates the safest environment in the office wins a prize, for example, or honor employees who receive green cards at a meeting or with a small token. The idea is to make safety awareness an everyday concern, and to show employees that they are all at risk for injury, so make safety incentives an ongoing program. You could even make these incentive programs a responsibility of the safety committee.

It is everyone’s job to create a safe working environment, so find ways to get your employees invested and committed to avoiding injuries. When you do, you’ll save costs and build a stronger team.

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