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How the Team Approach to Safety Can Rescue the Bottom Line

By Tony Spearing, Vice President, Safety Today, Inc.

The proper personal protective equipment helps reduce both the risk and high cost of occupational injuries.

And the relationship truly is associative. That is, by meeting or exceeding all mandates as it relates to protecting personnel, companies find an immediate and sustained decrease in operating expenses. But it takes balance. Companies can ill-afford to surround each worker with a bubble of steel. Nor would such an environment lend itself to any real productivity. Protecting workers doesn’t mean taking your eye off practical decision-making. The smart approach to safety also protects your bottom line.

The challenge is in doing both; that is, providing the best quality, best-performing personal protective equipment (PPE) for your facility while simultaneously keeping operating costs down. In many cases, the solution to this formidable task is with a team approach.

In some industries, procurement departments and safety directors — who formerly may have had conflicting objectives —find themselves working together to achieve a well-balanced PPE program. By bringing in an outside safety specialist, such as a full-service safety distributor representing hundreds of manufacturers, the team’s task of matching equipment to application is made easier. Outside specialists have the experience to help the internal team determine how best to allocate limited resources while effectively preventing workplace accidents. As a result of their collaboration, this comprehensive team consisting of safety, purchasing and “outside counsel” team members yields better results than an in-house team could, working alone.

Safety First Helps Control Costs

Making safety a priority is a good economic decision. Preventing injuries in the first place with the proper use of PPE is an effective method of controlling the high costs associated with injuries. Despite the best efforts made by industry, compliance remains a problem. But that’s a subject for another day, let’s look at the injury statistics.

Examining the Need for Protection: Some Statistics

  • In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, reported 109.4 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, a total of 1,162,210 days-away-from-work cases in private industry, state government and local government.

  • The median days away from work to recuperate was 8 days in 2013.

  • There were 4,405 injuries that led to fatalities. * 699 of those were from falls, trips or slips. * 330 were from exposure to harmful substances or environments.

  • Incidence rates and counts for private sector heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, as well as food preparation workers, each increased in 2013.

Protective equipment may have prevented a significant number of these accidents that, on average, cost approximately $37,000 per incident and $1,390,000 per fatality (2013, National Safety Council). Costs include estimated wage losses, medical expenses, administrative and employer costs per worker, plus environmental and repair costs, for a total cost to American industry of $188.9 billion in 2011. Contrast that with the fact that an effective safety/health program can save time and money (about $4 for every dollar spent) while increasing productivity and reducing worker injuries, illnesses and related workers’ compensation costs (OSHA 3151-12R, Personal Protective Equipment).

It is clear that better strategies are required in the area of workplace accident prevention.

Cultivating A Culture of Prevention

Employers looking at their bottom line might find too much reactive spending to safety, rather than proactive spending, getting ahead of problems before they occur. How do employers turn the tables so that the organization understands that safety equals protection, so that protection translates to savings?

One key to preventing workplace injuries is by properly matching protective wear to the given applications. However, a dizzying array of protective equipment is available. After employers determine they have a need for PPE, they must select the right items, issue them, and provide training to every employee required to use the equipment. The safety director and purchasing staff will find that establishing a culture of prevention is easier with the help of a dedicated safety specialist. This individual can assess potential risks through a careful and complete analysis of a plant’s safety program, including gathering input and buy-in from employees and members of the management team.

Some full-service safety equipment distributors offer this type of facility analysis at no charge, which will include written recommendations on specific equipment and may include actually conducting training programs. After completing a PPE survey and implementing the improved program, most companies find that, in addition to a reduction in the number of costly accidents, savings are also realized in terms of more efficient purchasing. Surveys show that intelligent PPE purchasing leads to a desirable balance of better safety and increased overall savings.

Whenever possible, facilities should make plans to remove or “engineer out” workplace hazards uncovered by a safety survey. Although zero risk can never truly be attained, every facility has a responsibility to minimize risk to workers first by removing hazards. Organizations such as the Institute for Safety Through Design, an entity of the National Safety Council, are working to reduce injuries by promoting the design of systems and machinery using real-world safety concepts and techniques. Until then, a well-conceived and followed PPE program can literally be a lifesaver.

How a Facility Safety Analysis Creates Value

An appendix to OSHA 1910, Subpart I App B, “Non-mandatory Compliance Guidelines for Hazard Assessment and Personal Protective Equipment Selection,” recommends a facility survey “to assess the need for PPE by determining hazards and level of risk to employees.”

A facility safety analysis can help change the focus of a PPE program from compliance — to compliance-plus-value. If the company’s current protocol is to buy the least expensive protective wear for each application (basic compliance), an analysis by an unbiased third party could reveal that higher quality equipment would last longer, resulting in long-term cost savings.

In addition to assigning value to product durability, properly matching PPE to the application offers a host of other benefits that directly impact a company’s bottom line, including lower purchasing costs, fewer accidents and increased productivity.

For example, the analysis may uncover that, for workers performing a given application, less glove, not more, is required for the task. The survey might also show that eye protection enclosed by a soft foam edge will keep dust and perspiration out of workers’ eyes.

Put into practice, these survey results can result in savings in a number of ways. Buying less glove (e.g., lighter or more flexible) saves money spent on glove purchasing. This allows for an additional investment in eye protection, for example. Replacing a bulky glove reduces worker fatigue, improving worker productivity. New eye protection may have a similar positive effect on worker productivity, but the switch to a new PPE item has an added benefit of being popular with the workforce. They recognize and appreciate the additional investment and feel more comfortable about using the equipment. More comfortable protection is more likely to stay on, improving compliance, which in turn reduces workplace accidents.

In short, safety solutions born out of a formal facility audit can improve compliance and help identify the protective equipment that will provide the best long-term value for a company.

The Safety Director’s Side

A safety director’s top priority must be preventing injury and complying with OSHA standards for the use of personal protective equipment. Specifying appropriate PPE, such as protective gloves or eye and face protection, is only the first step. The key to preventing injuries is compliance: getting workers to wear PPE in the first place. When you look at protective gloves, for instance, consider the application involved and ask, how much protection is needed? Is this needed for indoor or outdoor work? Is slip-resistance of prime importance? How crucial is comfort? How about cut-resistance or heat or flame resistance? Is the application wet or dry? What is the history of hand injuries for this duty? Talk to workers and ask what they think they need to get the job done safely. When you consider your operators as experts in their tasks and give them some say in a decision, they are more likely to comply.

Outside professionals can be an invaluable resource, as they talk to companies and employees every day about what works and what doesn’t. Working with an expert is the best way to analyze your operation task by task, looking at potential hazards. Then you can determine which equipment provides the proper level of protection for each task, and determine the best value for your investment into protective equipment.

While workers’ safety is paramount, the costs of a PPE program are a significant consideration. In some cases, these costs must be strictly controlled. That is where a conflict can arise between safety directors and purchasing. A facility analysis by a safety professional can help you make choices that align with objectives on both sides of the table, taking into account needs and cost restrictions.

The Purchasing Director’s Side

Excess inventory can tie up resources and drain the bottom line — a major concern of purchasing directors. Safety professionals can help you manage and reduce inventory. Through a facility PPE survey, you can help to achieve significant inventory reduction or consolidation. Companies often find, for example, that a single item will work for multiple tasks, when several styles were used previously.

Another way to achieve inventory reduction is by implementing an on-site safety center, which is an independent “safety store” and training center that is staffed and stocked by a full-service safety distributor. The on-site safety center takes care of fitting and dispensing safety equipment from protective eyewear to respiratory equipment. Advantages include eliminating any in-house inventory of safety supplies while also eliminating processing time for purchase orders, receiving and sourcing spot buys.

While consolidating purchases and reducing inventory can save money, no single manufacturer could possibly have the “best” product for every need. Tapping an expert who knows the variety of options for any application is a good business practice.

Work Together for Best Results

A facility analysis can offer real cost savings to a company, both in injury prevention and inventory reduction. But the professional’s recommendations will work best when safety directors and procurement specialists work together to introduce the new program and implement the change.

A safety specialist can keep you apprised of new developments in PPE technology. Training programs are also valuable tools for encouraging and promoting compliance. The National Safety Council offers a variety of workplace safety training materials and programs, including on-site training. NSC also offers safety training materials aimed specifically at young and teenage workers, who, as a group, have significantly higher injury rates on the job than older, more experienced workers. (For more on NSC training, visit www.nsc.org/learn/Safety-Training/Pages/safety-training.aspx).

In Conclusion

What can a facility safety director do to protect workers and allow them to perform their jobs confidently, with a reduced risk of injuries? What can a purchasing director do to reduce the facility’s expenditures on protective equipment? How can they combine forces to protect the bottom line?

For many companies, a safety analysis conducted in partnership with an outside, unbiased safety specialist is the answer to these questions. After all, workers are your company’s most valuable asset. When you protect them — and they chose to protect themselves on the job, everybody wins.

Tony Spearing is the Vice President for Safety Today Inc., Columbus, Ohio. Safety Today provides personal protective equipment and safety-related services to industrial customers, as well as safety resources and supplies to all industries and markets, from processing to automotive, from general industrial to power gen. For a FREE Safety Audit, call 800-837-5900.