While safety is often a part of the organizational structure within large companies, with allocated budgets and dedicated full-time staff, safety can be overshadowed by the time and energy spent working to achieve economic sustainability in small businesses.
Although small businesses also understand the importance of safety, making sure workers get their paycheques and making sure their operating costs are covered are top of mind. This doesn't mean that small businesses don't care about safety; in fact, I'd argue that many small business owners have an even closer connection to worker safety. Without as many layers separating the company president from the workers, it's easier to know each person in the company by name and take a genuine and personal interest in their safety and well-being. The stakes are also much higher for small businesses when it comes to injuries because unlike a larger business, when a small business experiences a time loss injury, it can mean losing a significant part of their already small workforce.
But, without the resources of a large organization, what can small business owners do to improve safety in their workplace and protect their workers? When I get asked this question, I often tell people about my brother Sean, who runs a small construction company. Before starting his own company, Sean worked for a large oil company in Alberta, which gave him the opportunity to work within a large safety system. When he started his business, Sean took what he learnt about safety at this large organization and found ways to implement some of these practices in his new business. He prepared a safety policy and program for his business and for his workers and instituted a weekly safety talk.
Sean researched and found any and all free training available to him through his industry-based safety association and ensured he and his workers attended any relevant safety courses. When he promotes someone to supervise a crew, he ensures that person receives safety training specific to helping supervisors keep their workers safe. Sean does this because he values his workers, knows them all by name and wants to make sure they make it home to their families at the end of each and every work shift. He has personally met many of those family members waiting at home for their loved ones.
Sean has also realized that there is a clear competitive advantage for small businesses like his to make a commitment to safety. Recently, he had a worker leave his company to go work for a competitor. Many construction workers are transient and follow the highest rate of pay. He wished him well and accepted this as an economic reality of running a smaller business. But this story doesn't end there. Two weeks later he received a call from this same worker asking if he could have his old job back.
Sean was more than happy to take him back, but had to ask, why the change in heart? The worker said that the new company he worked for expected him to do work without fall protection and he stated to Sean that he would rather have his old job at his old wage and be safe, rather than risk his health and safety for a bit more money. And, that was my brother's 'Aha!' moment: By demonstrating a genuine commitment to workers' safety, you show that you value them, and this can mean the difference between retaining your best workers and losing them in a highly competitive job market.
Safety makes good business sense and its value extends far beyond the dollars and cents we invest in it.
Jamie Hall is the chief operating officer of SAFE Work Manitoba. Visit http://safemanitoba.com
for more information.