Increasingly, companies are seeing the need to include safety and health in their business plans and strategies. They realize safety is an important contributor to a company's bottom line, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers.
As it celebrates its first hundred years, the ASSE is looking to the future and developing programs to address workplace hazards in its next century. The organization's president shared his insights on recent changes and the second hundred years.
"One of the primary changes we're seeing in the profession is how safety is part of the overall management system and overall business operations," said Darryl C. Hall, president of ASSE and vice president of North American safety for the Cary, N.C.-based ABB. "In many cases safety is a subset or part of sustainability which includes social responsibility, a term that resonates with CEOs."
As part of that effort, ASSE developed a sustainability index that helps define socially responsible companies and is attempting to promote the index globally.
Companies that don't understand the bottom-line impact of safety and how it can contribute to the financial well-being of an organization have cut safety programs due to the declining economy, Hill explained. Other companies understand that instead of cutting back, having safety in the overall process can help them through difficult economic times.
With the economy starting to improve, some companies that do not already have safety and health management systems are beginning to adopt proactive safety measures. It's a trend Hill expects to continue.
"What we'll see in the short term is probably an increased focus on occupational safety and health because of various risks and hazards that are inherent, especially with an increase in employment" since employment hikes after a recession many times result in higher frequency of workplace injuries, he said.
For the longer term, Hill anticipates more focus on the overall area of occupational health.
"What I mean is even though safety will be an important aspect in terms of a company's operations, it's the hidden hazards -- nanotechnology, occupational health exposures, even stress," Hill said. "If you look at the studies and research, for every occupational injury you may have five to 10 times the number of occupational health exposures to known and unknown chemicals."
With research indicating a correlation between safety on and off the job, Hill also expects a closer alignment between occupational health and safety of exposure to hazards and risks away from work. He believes employers can and should make their workers aware of safety prevention measures.
"We cannot necessarily control or dictate lifestyles, behaviors, and habits away from the workplace," Hill said. "What it really comes down to is the educational piece and making the connection of why it's important to practice safety while at home and in the community."
For example, Hill said ABB recently invited a fire extinguisher vendor to the company to offer reduced prices for his product.
"What you're doing is trying to influence or promote that same behavior away from work," Hill said. "You're not dictating or controlling but increasing an awareness away from work."
Another example of a way employers can promote safety on and off the job is through cell phone use while driving. Since several states do not have a law banning cell phone use by drivers, ABB provides guidelines and online driving courses to promote safe driving behaviors.
"We want to provide guidelines, best practices, for framing employee behaviors so it becomes habit forming," he said.
The overall well-being of employees is the third target area Hill foresees as important to employers over the long term. "If we can embrace that area of our focus from a holistic standpoint, we'll have a more productive, satisfied, and safe worker," he said.
Hill related that at one of ABB's facilities in Mexico, each shift begins with stretching routines and often massages are provided to employees.
"In our culture that might not be accepted, but it's a great example because we know that studies show that stress is a major occupational health exposure across any industry in the world," he said.
Companies that incorporate education and awareness of proper fitness and diet can help their employees' well-being.
"It's very important in terms of having a productive safe employee that will contribute positively to the bottom line," he said.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 14, 2011
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