Despite common belief, the majority of workplace injuries are not caused by unsafe conditions, but rather employee behavior. These “misbehaving” workers often overestimate their physical limits and make unsafe choices — such as lifting a 300-pound piece of equipment without assistance.
When DuPont conducted a study of all its workplace accidents over a 10-year period, they discovered that 96% of the incidents resulted from employees working beyond their limits. A 2006 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Study showed that more than 50% of all workplace injuries were a result of overexertion, falls, twisting the wrong way and other such “behavioral” accidents. These injuries led to an estimated $46 billion in annual worker’s compensation costs.
The OSHA factor
Considering these eye-opening statistics, it’s obvious that workers need an on-the-job attitude adjustment. Some believe the industry should turn to The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to reverse this disturbing trend. Unfortunately, OSHA might not be the solution. Although the organization has acted as the watchdog for workplace safety for the past 30 years, OSHA generally focuses on making the workplace safer as opposed to changing employee behavior. After all, it’s a lot easier to modify a facility or repair a piece of machinery than it is to change the way a worker thinks and acts. Plus, many employers are wary of opening their doors to OSHA in fear that the organization will become overly involved in their every day affairs.
Because OSHA doesn’t seem to be the answer, it looks like employers are on their own when it comes to changing employee behavior. That means business owners must take the initiative to educate employees and cut down on preventable workplace injuries. Here are a few steps employers can take to cut back on “behavioral” accidents:
- Appraise the situation: Take a closer look at past employee injuries that have occurred in your workplace. If you notice any patterns or trends, it’s time to make significant changes in that area. For example, if most injuries occurred when employees were attempting to carry heavy boxes, focus on teaching workers to safely move boxes with the assistance of another worker or a forklift.
- Get supervisors on board: Ensure that your front line supervisors make injury prevention a top priority. Not only should they constantly enforce safety guidelines, but they also need to raise awareness throughout the ranks.
- Work as a team: Workplace injury prevention requires plenty of teamwork. Make sure that all your employees understand the importance of working together and keeping an eye out for their fellow workers.
- Create incentive programs: Consider offering your workers special rewards for sustaining a safe workplace. For example, let workers know that if there are no injuries within a 6- or 12-month period, they’ll be rewarded with a party, gift certificates or even an extra vacation day. This will give them greater incentive to make safe choices on a daily basis.
- Hire the right people: Try to employ safety-conscious, reliable workers who are genuinely concerned with injury prevention.
- Train your workers: Without the proper education and training, workers cannot be expected to perform their jobs safely. Ensure that all your employees are well-trained in safety guidelines and offer refresher courses each year.
Changing human behavior is no easy task. It will take loads of time and hard work to change your employees’ ways, but it will be well worth the effort in the long run. If you can successfully adjust your workers’ attitudes, you’ll enjoy lower insurance premiums, more productive workers and fewer injury-related absences. You might even be eligible for inclusion in OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). This program recognizes small businesses with an exemplary safety and health management system. If you receive this prominent recognition, your worksite will be exempt from programmed inspections as long as your SHARP certification is valid.