Why Proactive Safety Programs Are Better Than Reactive Ones

By Conor Moran, Assistance Vice President – Commercial Lines 

You run a small construction company. One of your employees is climbing up a ladder with one hand while holding some power tools with another and, as a result, puts not only the employee in danger, but also some of your other employees. How do you respond to this?

For one thing, the employee technically hasn’t done anything malicious. It is simply a corner that has been cut, likely in the name of productivity. Either way, OSHA wouldn’t be happy about what is going on. And if OSHA isn’t happy, you probably won’t be happy either.

When it comes to safety programs and regulatory compliance, there are generally two types of responses: reactive and proactive.

Reactive Responses

A reactive response is one that happens as a reaction to an injury or an illness and is designed to help minimize the costs which are associated with that event. If a management team chooses to go with reactive responses, more often than not, it sends the message that they don’t care about their employees’ safety. Insurance companies aren’t going to give you a break on your claim for making a handful of changes after the claim happens, either.

Here are some hallmarks of reactive programs:

  • accountability often assigns discipline after accidents
  •  “clocks” which incentivize not reporting incidents (ex: “Pizza party if no accidents for one month”)
  • investigations try to fix the direct cause and not the system which led to it

Proactive Responses

Proactive responses will take place prior to accidents and help to anticipate those accidents and prevent them. This approach shows employees, whether they realize it or not, that the management and ownership of the company care about their health. In the longterm, this is going to save a lot of money and is by far the less expensive option.

Here are some hallmarks of proactive programs:

  • hazard analysis
  • safety teams, coordinators and committees
  • safety equipment always on hand
  • analysis after accidents attempt to fix the system and not assign blame
  • regular inspection programs
  • incentive programs that promote reporting what you see, suggesting changes, etc.
  • regular safety training and education, not as a “punishment”
  • accountability avoids discipline or punishment

How to Begin Implementing Proactive Safety Programs

Implementing proactive programs begins with communications. Start with a written policy which uses clear language and promotes safety as an organizational value. When you do your normal weekly or monthly meeting, add a section about safety so you can go over your current plans and your employees can vent some of their frustrations or suggest changes.

Next up, start implementing safety coordinators and teams. The teams should be small and will handle their sections of the business. Just like your organization, the teams can have a hierarchy and reporting will head upwards. In this way, you have more hands in the pot and will have more people checking to ensure safety on the ground level. It also allows you to ensure everyone and every area of the workplace has proper safety equipment.

Next, identify the hazards in your workplace and label them. Make sure everyone understands the danger. Likewise, identify things which workers may be doing that require special training or precaution and ensure that programs are in place to handle those unique tasks.

Why This Is a Good Thing

These proactive programs are a good idea for a number of reasons, but the largest may be avoiding fines from regulatory agencies—such as OSHA—and lowering some of your costs on insurance. Insurance companies are going to value companies that are going out of their way to save themselves money and promote safety. Why? Because it means fewer claims.

For business owners, this means lower costs, lower potential fines, lower risk and most of all, the value of knowing that you are doing everything that you can to keep your employees and workplace safe.