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Safety: Adapting to a Down Economy

With budgets getting pared back across the board, safety programs are not immune. Here are tips to help keep your safety training from getting squeezed out during corporate belt tightening.

You can’t escape today’s sobering economic news. For many businesses, the fiscal fallout that started with the banks and brokerages is affecting their companies in a substantive way.

You may find out that your organization’s commitment to safety training programs is not as strong as you thought. Some may feel that safety training is a "luxury" better suited to more prosperous times.

But when it comes to safety, the stakes of cutting back are high. The tendency to jettison worker-protection efforts in favor of what appear to be more immediate needs is strong. But at what price? As safety professionals know, tough times make vigilance to worker safety even more important. People are distracted. The threat of layoffs can keep workers from concentrating as they should, and worries about rushing out to a second job can cause people to cut corners, all with dangerous results. Injured workers are costly to replace, and additional injuries can raise your cost of workers’ compensation.

This is time when safety professionals can really earn their money by reminding the top brass of the of the high costs of cutting back on safety training, not only in potential human suffering, but also in very large fines. Your arguments will be better received, however, if you can show that you are taking steps to save money and be more creative in your safety training. But how can safety and health departments respond to budget constraints without compromising worker protection?

Create, Don’t Eliminate

If you’re facing a request from the corner office to reduce safety staff, cut back on training, and reconsider launching a new safety manual, you’ve got a serious challenge on your hands that goes beyond the scope of this article. But if the need is to scale back what you’re doing without cutting away the essence of your program, we’ve got some solid suggestions. Consider these strategies to do more with less:

Turn to your employees

Your employees know the jobs and the risks in your workplace better than anyone else. If your budget for outside trainers has been cut, create an employee trainer brigade. Identify volunteers who like to be in front of a crowd, are knowledgeable about the subject, and like the idea of teaching others. Convey the seriousness of the role by providing training and constructive feedback. Volunteers are more likely to sign on once a couple of pioneers have paved the way.

Get employees involved in recognizing safety and health milestones. But instead of a costly lunch provided by management, consider a potluck celebration or an inexpensive hot dog roast. You’ll spend much less than you would on a catered event, while still giving employees an opportunity to participate and celebrate.

Substitute fun

If you’ve been required to scale back wellness benefits, such as subsidized gym memberships, consider starting a walking club. It’s not hard to do, but it needs to be well managed so that participants take it seriously and know what to expect. Many workplace walking groups select charities to which they, or other donors, pledge modest sums in return for walking a certain number of miles in a given number of weeks or months.

Another way to build in fun is to create competitive walking teams. Try to get your top leaders involved. It’s a great way to demonstrate their commitment to wellness, and the presence of the big bosses encourages others to participate.

Polish your sales skills

As a safety professional, you’ve had to do your share of "selling" the benefits of investing in safety and health. With company owners and managers scrambling to preserve the bottom line, you may need to be prepared for conversations about reductions within the safety department.

Arm yourself with facts and develop a set of "talking points" to communicate the business value of safety and health at your organization. Compile statistics, but remember that safety and health is not just about the numbers–it’s a people business. Focus as well on incidents that drive home the message that real lives are protected when companies invest in finding and fixing hazards.

Encourage your top leaders to continue to demonstrate commitment to safety and health. This can be done in countless ways–from an e-mail message to recognize ongoing attention to safety to a strategic walkabout during which the CEO observes and acknowledges safe behaviors. Another way to communicate that safety is a value is to establish an internal recognition program. Assign an employee committee to develop and run it, and let workers vote on best safety innovations and achievements by their co-workers.

Getting your workers to have the right safety attitude is more important than ever when the purse strings are tight.

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Categories: Safety
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