Safety isn’t always foremost in the minds of entrepreneurs or small business owners. For some, a severe injury to a worker is a very remote possibility and hardly worth worrying about. Still others believe there is no way to get the job done safely without spending heaps of money that they just don’t have. Yet small businesses sometimes discover the hard way that it doesn’t take many injuries to put a company in real financial peril.
The belief that a business must choose between workplace safety and making a profit is a very old and deeply held mind-set. Unfortunately, it’s usually just plain wrong. Here are seven approaches that any business owner can adopt to reduce the risk of worker injuries without adding prohibitive cost:
1. Hire smarter. When sales exceed production capacity, some owners might be tempted to make a quick hire. But employers would be wise to consider the risk associated with hiring an incompetent worker — someone who is far more likely to become injured. Instead carefully screen candidates to ensure that they have the skills and experience it takes to be successful — and work safely.
2. Train your staff. Even a highly skilled and experienced worker should be given instruction to meet your expectations of how the job will be done. If you know certain techniques that can make doing a certain job safer, be sure to share them with your workers. Counting on common sense to keep workers safe is a recipe for disaster. Common sense isn’t always common practice.
3. Demand safe work practices. Begin by believing there’s always time to do things safely and it’s never acceptable to work unsafely. Then practice what you preach. If you choose productivity over safety, then you send the wrong message to your workers. You want workers to share your vision of a safe workplace and be engaged and active in making that happen. Workers will support your vision only if they believe it’s real.
3. Provide the right tools and equipment. You can’t expect employees to take reasonable precautions (for example, tie a personal line to a safety device when working at a height) without providing them proper tools and equipment. The cost of steel-toed shoes or safety glasses is minuscule compared with the cost of trauma surgery. There is a very strong human drive toward expediency and many workers will risk using the wrong tool or taking a short cut to get a job done.
4. Demonstrate that you value worker safety. If you praise members of your A team as those who get the job done with whatever it takes, you may be inadvertently fostering a culture that devalues safety. Consider recognizing staffers who offer suggestions for working safely. Be careful to not provide incentives for achieving zero injuries because that will essentially be rewarding zero reporting, which may increase the risk of injuries.
5. Look for ways to improve safety. Just as it’s desirable to find work methods to achieve faster results at less cost, seek ways to eliminate risk. Spend some time with workers brainstorming for their safety ideas. Solicit their concerns about safety at work and act on their suggestions.
6. Remember there are a lot of right answers. Too often employers see safety as an absolute — either a job is safe or not — when the truth is safety is relative. No job is absolutely without risk and therefore completely safe. But there are ways to approach a job to make it safer. Conversely, no job is completely unsafe.
Safety can be a hard sell for some people. Some workers take a fatalistic “ya gotta die of something” attitude, while others are willing to take unreasonable, even reckless risks. Entrepreneurs should watch out for workers needlessly risking their lives and endangering co-workers and thereby risking the company’s future. A strong demand for safe work practices by senior leadership can mean the difference between success and failure.