Combining Learning & Safety Management To Create A Safer, More Productive Workplace

Brett Williams

We know intuitively that creating a safer workplace is the right thing to do, but often it is necessary to quantify the value of safety interventions to secure support for them.

According to the National Safety Council, three deaths occur per 100,000 workers each year, and each death costs a company more than $1.3 million. Similarly, there are more than four medically consulted injuries for every 200,000 hours of workplace exposure. (National Safety Council Injury Facts, 2012)[i] Aberdeen Research reports that financially successful companies tend to have much lower repeat accident and recordable injury rates than those not as financially sound.[ii] In short, creating a safer work environment is the right thing to do – and it makes financial sense.

Companies that create a true safety culture ensure that front-line employees are considered an extension of the safety team. They are given opportunities to learn about the safety principles that are important to their job function and invited to report unsafe conditions. Safety performance improves as front-line workers’ awareness increases and when incidents, observations and near misses, as well as and work-related injuries, are viewed and used as opportunities for learning.

Integrating learning with safety management helps facilitate this process and is a large step toward ensuring a safer, more productive workforce. Many organizations rely on a Learning Management System or Human Capital Management System to deliver training and a separate application to manage their safety program. Lack of integration of these two functions makes it difficult to implement and reinforce observation-based safety programs. In particular, it makes it challenging for organizations to collectively learn from incidents and keep raising the safety bar.

Obtaining Employee Buy-in to Safety Programs

Safety professionals can use their wealth of knowledge and experience to quickly weigh whether a person, facility or process is operating within acceptable safety margins. Unfortunately, the number of safety professionals in an organization is often limited. To be truly effective, these professionals need to rely on the eyes and ears of front-line employees. Consequently, the best safety programs are ones in which front-line employees understand and apply specific safety principles to their jobs, effectively “policing” themselves and others. In these environments, employees are encouraged to report unsafe conditions so they can be corrected.

It Starts With Training

Training is the foundation of a safety culture. Well-trained employees are safer employees. Most organizations have online safety training programs that are tailored to specific job functions. Safety training is usually planned on an annual basis and scheduled throughout the year. However, these programs often do not accommodate ad-hoc, as-needed training needs.

For example, consider a scenario in which a machine is scheduled for periodic maintenance. Lockout/tagout procedures are in place, and while the maintenance crew previously received safety training on the equipment, crew members could use a refresher course before working on the machine. In this scenario, an integrated Learning & Safety Management System (LSMS) would provide standardized online safety training as well as “moment-of-need training.” Imagine an employee on the floor being able “snap” a QR code with their smart phone (think of QR codes as the next generation bar code) to access a five-minute refresher course.This refresher training is particularly useful when an infrequently performed job is conducted under hazardous conditions.

Observation-Based Safety Programs Help Spot Unsafe Trends

Since safety professionals can’t be everywhere at once, it is essential to encourage front-line employees to participate in observation-based safety programs as part of efforts to identify and address unsafe conditions. Employees should be able to submit observations on unsafe conditions, people, processes, incidents and injuries in a non-punitive, systematic fashion.

With employee observations in hand, safety professionals can triage individual observations, consolidate their response as appropriate, and analyze specific safety trends. The safety professional also is able to conduct a thorough causal analysis.

Training as a Corrective Action

Once causal factors are understood, it is a relatively straightforward process to take corrective actions. The real opportunity for employers, however, is to “memorialize” an incident or injury as part of the organization’s collective safety culture so it never happens again. This is a far more challenging task, and nearly impossible to achieve when learning and safety management systems are not integrated.

An integrated LSMS can:

●     Draw from recorded observations and related analyses and quickly communicate this information back to the workforce

●     Alert employees immediately after a serious incident has occurred so they are informed of the situation

●     Facilitate training by eliminating the need to coordinate assignments with human resources

●     Help the organization avoid similar incidents in the future

●     Change an organization’s safety culture.

Creating a safer work environment is the right thing to do and can be linked to improved employee productivity and company financial performance. Creating a safety culture hinges on buy-in from the front-line employees. Buy-in starts with training employees on the best safety practices for their jobs and extends to employee-based safety observation programs. Ultimately, organizations can collectively learn from incidents and ensure specific safety issues are resolved by integrating learning and safety programs.

[i]National Safety Council Injury Facts – 2012 Edition

[ii]Aberdeen Group Compliance Management in Environment, Health, and Safety 2011