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Lessons from America's safest companies

The EHS Today America's Safest Companies conference recognizes companies that have achieved world-class safety through innovative safety processes and outstanding safety cultures. While the companies may be on the Fortune 1000 list, the lessons are relevant to small and mid-sized companies.

Phil McIntyre, director of business development and marketing at Milliken & Co., Peter Riley, executive vice president of integrated operations, Bell Helicopter, and Thomas O'Rourke, North America vice president of site EHS services, BASF, shared their insights on building successful safety programs and a panel of safety leaders and employment law attorneys discussed strategies to manage employee injuries according to the EHS Today website. Here are some key points:

  1. Keep the message focused and clear. According to McIntyre, the core message should be "We don't want anyone to get hurt." This message will resonate on the shop floor more than it is good business sense to improve safety.
  2. Reporting and follow up. At Bell Helicopter, recording, fixing and measuring near misses is an important leading indicator. The key to near miss reporting is to have maintenance give the highest safety priority to fixes related to near misses. If nothing happens, employees will stop reporting them.
  3. Knowing what you need to know. According to O'Rourke, "You must know, as a senior executive, what you need to do to foster safe operations." While smaller companies may not have the expertise to navigate the maze of occupational safety and health information, safety and insurance experts in Workers' Comp can help and there also are many free resources available online. NIOSH has a Small Business Resource Guide intended to help small business owners and managers deal with occupational safety and health concerns. The company's attitude and knowledge toward job safety will be a huge influence on employees' behavior.
  4. Invest in safety before incidents, not after. Milliken spends more than double the industry average on safety prior to an incident, but its cost per employee post-incident is only 10% of the industry-wide cost per employee ($253 vs. $2533). When pre- and post-incident costs are added together, Milliken is paying less overall than others - showing that it's best to make the investment in safety before incidents, not after.
  5. Baseline assessment of employees' fitness for duty. Obtaining a baseline assessment of employees' fitness for duty immediately after hiring is a key to effective injury management. With a functional assessment in hand the employer is responsible only for bringing the employee back to his original baseline. To comply with the law, it must be done uniformly, post-offer and consistent with business needs.
  6. Build relationships with occupational medical providers. While there are different legal requirements governing how much influence an employer may have in an employee's choice of doctor, a relationship between employees and occupational physicians can pay off not only for employers, but for workers and their health, too. Inviting employees to a lunch and learn or other educational opportunity with local occupational medical providers can build relationships and trust.