Assessing Your Safety Program Critical in Tight Economy, Expert Says
Cindy Roth, president and CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. in Syosset, N.Y., said cutbacks have forced many companies to push aside valuable and critical elements of their health, safety and ergonomics programs.
"We have a real problem with the reduction in employees, especially when talking about skilled workers," she said. "A lot of these employees are the ones who had been trained to do assessments of their companies' ergonomics programs. With the layoffs and reduction in staff, much of what has been learned in the past has been put on the back burner."
Roth said follow-up assessments and audits after the implementation of changes in the workplace are common elements of an effective health, safety or ergonomics program that often get neglected in a poor economy.
"Assessments give management an understanding of how applied ergonomics have made jobs more efficient and where you've saved money," she said. "Unfortunately, many companies simply don't have enough people to continue the ergonomics process the way it should be performed. However, a cost-benefit analysis for an ergonomics program is the driving force for change. Without reassessing your workplace after implementing solutions and training employees, you'll never find out what you've gained."
Data derived from these evaluations are critical when illustrating to management the importance of funding for a health, safety or ergonomics initiative, Roth said.
"I believe in metrics," she said. "So many people will give you an opinion, but won't have objective materials to back it up with. When you get into metrics, you have the hard-core facts that you can present to management and the bean counters. This information is the driver for your next project or next year's ergo budget. You need the cost justification data so that you have something to show when someone says ?We can't afford this.'"
Track leading indicators. There are several ways to track the effectiveness of your health, safety or ergonomics program. Many employers, Roth said, only examine lagging indicators. This includes incident reports, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration 300 injury logs and workers' compensation claim data. However, companies should consider taking a more proactive approach when evaluating their programs.
"Leading indicators are what we really should be looking at, especially when the money is tight," she said.
Leading indicators can include factors, such as compliance rates with facility inspections, employee training, and the implementation of corrective measures. They can also include employee symptom surveys and thorough reviews of equipment and controls. Regardless of what is tracked and assessed, Roth said employers shouldn't complicate the process.
"Assessments should be simple and easily understood," she said. "It shouldn't take an employer four months to get the results. You need to get the hard-core facts about your program and know how to fix any problems that you identify."
Who should be responsible for assessing a program at a short-staffed company? Roth said employers must share the duties and make it a collaborative project.
"Most disciplines in a company should be involved, particularly facilities management and the purchasing department," she said. "You need to assemble a committee that is representative of management and labor, and is capable of working together as a team. The committee must set goals, draw up an agenda, get organized, and draft action items. You must make the most of the little time that management will give you to devote to the process in this difficult economy."
Employers can also administer surveys to measure employees' workplace perceptions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these perception surveys can measure the strengths and weaknesses of an employer's site safety and ergonomics culture. These surveys can give you data from various viewpoints within the organization. For instance, you can measure differences in employees' and managers' perceptions on various issues. This is an excellent way to determine whether alignment issues exist and, if so, what they are.
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October 8, 2009
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