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Fewer accidents occur at companies that understand safety vs. compliance

Fewer accidents occur at companies that understand safety vs. compliance

ORLANDO, Fla. — Companies that acknowledge the difference between safety and compliance are less likely to see workplace accidents caused by complacent employees, according to an official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA regulations represent the bare minimum employers can do to keep workers safe, said David Michaels, the U.S. Department of Labor's assistant secretary for occupational safety and health in Washington.

“We want to see employers go beyond what we sometimes call the "culture of compliance,'” Mr. Michaels said. “There are so many ways people are hurt that are not necessarily covered by a standard, so we want employers to embrace a different approach, and safety culture is one aspect of that.”

Bob Risk, Bristol, Pennsylvania-based national sales manager for safety at Staples Facility Solutions, a division of Framingham, Massachusetts-based Staples Inc., said the distinction between safety and compliance affects an entire organization.

“The cost of a hand injury is, on average, about $50,000,” Mr. Risk said. “That's everything involved — the insurance, the lost time, the lost experience.”

Just because workers are wearing their protective gear and being compliant doesn't mean they're being safe, Mr. Risk said. A safety culture should stress that “cut-resistant gloves aren't called cut-proof gloves for a reason,” he said.

What some companies with successful safety cultures will do, Mr. Risk said, is rotate the color of their gloves to keep workers alert about using such protective gear.

“When you're working, your hand becomes an extension of the tool you work with,” he said. “You almost forget that that's your hand. You're drilling something, you're hammering something, you're seeing what you're doing but you're not seeing your hand. ... You look at (an) orange (glove) for long enough, you don't see it anymore. But if you go from orange to yellow to fluorescent green ... it's always something new. It's kind of odd, but it works.”

Mr. Michaels and Mr. Risk were two of several safety professionals in attendance at the American Society of Safety Engineers' Safety 2014 conference in Orlando earlier this month.

During one conference session, Andy Schneider, global manager of health and safety for Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Illinois, said developing a successful safety culture begins with changing the way safety is measured.

“We're changing the focus from the absence of injury to the presence of safety,” he said.

The goal is that, when a vice president calls a facility manager to ask about safety, the answer will focus on solutions, such as improvement workshops, he said.

Speaking on a panel at the conference, Trevor Larsen, senior vice president of facilities and operations services at Walt Disney World in Orlando, shared a saying he said has become ingrained in the company's safety culture: “Let legal be legal, and you be safe.”

At Disney “we're always using safety as the first lens and letting compliance follow,” Mr. Larsen said, adding that Disney views safety as a value. “It's the way we do things,” not “something else to do.”

“Our parks are clean,” Mr. Larsen said. “We don't put people through cleanliness training. ... People develop that lens on their own. It's a value — picking up trash that's a certain size. We try to do some of that with safety.”

One way that value is instilled in workers is through “the power of storytelling,” Mr. Larsen said, adding that “it's more powerful to share stories than metrics.”

Once upon a time, Mr. Larsen said he ended up in the emergency room after mulch flew into his eye while he was edging a lawn without wearing safety glasses. Mr. Larsen said he shares this story with employees, including one who later visited his office holding a pair of chipped safety glasses. The man said a bolt flew up while he was edging, and that it was Mr. Larsen's story that encouraged him to wear the glasses in the first place.

If nothing else, experts say, a safety culture should obliterate the attitude that new workers are at risk, that workers in a dangerous industry are going to get hurt, or even that injuries are going to occur.

ASSE President Kathy Seabrook, who is also president of Mendham, New Jersey-based safety firm Global Solutions Inc., said ideally there should be no distinction between a company's overall culture and its safety culture.

“What we advocate is really looking at an organization holistically, and that's where this culture piece comes in,” Ms. Seabrook said.

“An organization that has a process in place to identify and manage safety and health risks ... this is the culture of the organization, where safety is in their DNA and all employees are incented to choose the safe way to work. It is an organization where safety is a value at every level of the organization.”

Safety isn't just about commitment or compliance, Ms. Seabrook said. “It's engagement.”