Use 5 Strategies to Combat Workplace Injuries During Economic Downturn
BST, a global safety consulting firm, recently issued a white paper -- Leading Safety in a Downturn -- that outlines the effects of a recession on workplace safety and proposes five actions to address them. According to the paper, common downturn events, such as job reassignments and layoffs, can increase employee exposure to injury just as many organizations have fewer available resources to manage those risks.
Don Groover, vice president of BST, said fewer resources are only part of the problem.
"A downturn can also have significant cultural implications for a business," he said. "What leaders do now with respect to safety and the business sends a message to employees about what really matters. That message will resonate long after the outside situation improves."
Communication critical to programs. In the paper, BST recommended employers use the following five strategies to address workplace health and safety issues during the economic downturn:
1. Open up and communicate why safety matters now. Employees who are anxious about the impact of the economy on the company, and on them personally, can be at increased risk for injury. Company leaders, the report concluded, need to be out front, demonstrating concern, listening, and taking appropriate actions.
"A strong safety message and focus is critical when people are worried about the future and how the business situation may personally touch them," the study found. "Employees who are preoccupied with concerns about the economy, changes in their roles, or who are left in the dark are more likely to revert to old behavior patterns, or lose focus and increase exposure to injury."
According to the paper, the safety message provides an opportunity for employers to let their people know that the organization really does care about them and to enlist their support in keeping safety, and the business, on track.
"Acknowledge the real fears and anxiety that people have and reassure them that their health and safety is just as valuable in bad times as in good," the authors of the report said. "And be sure your actions are consistent with this message. Communicating frequently about the current situation and the importance of employee safety during this time will help establish safety as a value."
2. Consider the effects of their actions on the culture. How leaders "do the hard stuff" -- layoffs, job assignments, budget cuts -- will dictate how people engage in safety and the business now and down the road.
"The way in which you make, communicate, and enforce tough decisions will have effects on employee loyalty, commitment, and performance for years to come," the paper stated.
3. Refine your strategy. Oftentimes safety performance can become bogged down -- both financially and functionally -- by legacy systems that no longer meet the needs of the business. Many companies find that their actual needs dictate an investment in fewer or different systems than they have right now. According to the authors of the report, an economic downturn is an ideal time to look at your company's safety needs from a new perspective.
"The key to refining your strategy during a downturn is to focus on precision," the study found. "What systems and processes overlap or have become extraneous? What systems and processes are working well and can be expanded? What leadership actions and behaviors will help us best reduce exposures and drive down incident rates?"
4. Work the fundamentals. Survival in a downturn, for any part of the business, is about targeting the core elements that sustain the enterprise. In health and safety performance, that means protecting the health and livelihoods of employees, the authors noted.
"Management must think about their most important focus and when it does, life altering injuries and fatalities are a primary concern," the report stated. "Maintaining and improving the systems that reduce the probability of serious injuries and fatalities is the right thing to do and it also has cultural impact.
5. Demonstrate and develop transformational leadership. According to the paper, leaders who use a transformational style are more successful at creating the will to go "above and beyond" self interest and give people a sense of purpose, belonging, and understanding regarding the work they do.
BST concluded that leading safety in bad times will likely require adapting your activities to new economic realities, without compromising the level of safety exposure.
"It does not mean adjusting expectations downward," the authors said. "Focusing on the principles of safety performance, rethinking the ?whats' and ?whys' of safety functioning, and enlisting the efforts of employees throughout the organization can convey your value for safety and help you achieve safety excellence now and in the future."
June 15, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications