It’s easy for employers to be complacent about Workers’ Compensation when rates are declining and workplaces are safer overall. There are more pressing business matters in today’s competitive market, such as attracting and retaining skilled and committed workers. But failure to relate the two is a lost opportunity and complacency is a slippery slope to higher costs.
A strong safety record reflects positively on the quality of management, supervision, and all employees. While there are individual and generational differences in what attracts workers to a company, there are common denominators. Trust, respect, involvement, clear goals and expectations, engaged management, collaborative working environment, and recognition are regulars on the lists of most desirable workplace characteristics. All of these are integral to a sustainable safety culture.
There is one value everyone can share: to go home without an injury. Use it to tell your story. While the message, “we value and care about our employees,” is often boasted, it’s met with skepticism. The opinion that production and profit trump safety is still pervasive among many employees.
To combat this attitude, safety must become everyone’s responsibility. Management must walk-the-talk and model the safety behavior they expect from employees, as well as empower employees to voice their concerns and take it upon themselves to improve safety. If an incident occurs, the focus is not on blame, but on the worker’s full recovery and a cooperative effort to improve processes to prevent future occurrences.
With a strong safety culture, employers have a credible way to demonstrate they value, trust, and care about their employees. Here’s how to use it to give yourself an edge:
- Communicate that safety is a core value by personalizing the message. Don’t just talk about metrics, but how employees are valued, respected, and engaged
- Explain the role employees have in safety and how employees are trusted to do the right thing
- Describe how orientation training truly reflects what happens in the field/plant, occurs before they even set foot on the job, and how training continues throughout the year
- Share how employees are rewarded or recognized for making safe behaviors and reporting incidents or near misses
- Tell how your recovery at work program reflects the company’s values with real stories
- Focus on successes and recognize and reward safe behavior
- Continually encourage reporting incidents and near misses
- Use safety to build teamwork and strive for excellence
- Take an active role in an injured worker’s treatment and recovery. Let them know their recovery is a priority by your actions
- Reinforce there are no acceptable trade-offs between safety and productivity and that both are everyone’s responsibility
- Encourage workers to speak freely about hazards and make suggestions for controlling risk
It’s important to recognize that employer complacency will filter down to employees. This can lead not only to a lax attitude about safety and an increase in injuries, but also fewer referrals. Word-of-mouth, as well as social media, can make or break recruitment efforts.
Hiring and retaining the right workers for the right positions
It takes work to maintain a strong safety culture and it begins with the hiring process. While making safety part of the recruiting process enhances the possibility of safety-conscious applicants, employers must be sure that they hire employees who are physically and mentally able to perform the job they are being hired to do.
A compliant way for employers to find out whether an applicant can do the job safely is to implement the Conditional Offer of Employment and Post-Offer/Pre-Placement Medical Questionnaire. When you hire someone who is not capable of doing the job, it’s not a question of if, but rather a question of when they are going to suffer an injury. Employers are less able to bear the burden of employees losing time today than at any time in the recent past.
With Workers’ Comp on the priority backburner, it’s easy to forget about including it in onboarding new employees or training current employees. Yet, the vast majority of employees who suffer an injury at work will find themselves inside the workers’ comp system for the first time. Even a minor injury may seem like a major occurrence because it is unfamiliar and frightening. “What am I going to have to pay?”, “How am I going to feed my family?”, “What do my co-workers think?”, and more fill their mind. When you communicate to workers how the workers’ comp process works, you can alleviate doubts and build confidence.
Getting injured employees back to work is always near the top of the list for best claims practices. While it’s been proven that Recovery at Work programs have an economic benefit, the human element is equally important. By providing support, encouragement, and opportunity, the employer makes the employee feel valued, protected, and confident appropriate work will be available.
Culture has been at the top of safety and health issues for more than a decade. Rethinking recruitment and retention strategies around safety may be the solution to one of the most pressing business matters today.
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