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Get more bang for your safety buck

By Rosie Lombardi
| www.cos-mag.com

Times are tough. OHS managers across Canada are facing budgetary cuts as companies tighten their belts with fiscal restraints. How can critical safety programs be maintained with limited dollars?

“You have to be creative,” says Lisa Tkaczuk, OHS manager for sales and services at Diversey Canada, an Oakville-based manufacturer of sanitation and cleaning supplies for industrial sites.

Tkaczuk says Diversey is restructuring and has made some staff changes. Although her budget hasn’t been cut, senior management did ask her to look at areas that could be trimmed back.

She started with a risk assessment, and prioritized the key problem areas and incident rates for sales and delivery staff. Diversey’s agents are on the road across Canada for long stretches, and also do demos and training at client sites to show customers how to use industrial cleaning agents properly and safely. 

Then she assembled a panel of field representatives to look at creative solutions. “We presented these high-risk areas, and asked them for suggestions about ways to refocus on key problem areas that would work for them and help them reduce the hazards,” she says.

Low-cost training

One major area of concern for staff was motor vehicle accidents, and the panel recommended more driver safety training, she says. Diversey already provides a significant amount of online training for its sales representatives. “But they said what they really wanted was more hands-on interaction with an instructor.”

While staff were happy with online courses they could access at their convenience, they pointed out that if questions come up during training, there’s no live instructor to ask, and if they don’t write down their questions immediately, they’re forgotten.

“They don’t think to e-mail OHS managers or others once that moment of clarification is gone. Incidents may occur because staff never found out how they were supposed to do something.” 

To tackle this in a cost-effective way, Tkaczuk made arrangements for training sessions via WebEx, a low-cost online meeting and collaboration service, broadcast with live instructors. And instead of using external instructors or consultants, she organized “train the trainer” sessions for Diversey’s internal experts. “It’s cheaper to enhance one staff’s knowledge than to keep rehiring external trainers.”

This approach solved the problem, and also brought new benefits, she says. A live instructor is available during the session to answer questions immediately, and since internal experts are used, they’re also available on an ongoing basis anytime. A bonus is that WebEx sessions can be recorded, so if staff miss a scheduled meeting, they can access it later

“So the instructor is live and available to answer questions. If some aspect of defensive driving techniques or our policies are not clear, they can ask for clarification about it right away.”

Look for freebies

There are other inexpensive ways to keep safety top of mind, she says. Many companies purchase items such as mugs, caps and the like to give away to staff as incentives or rewards for maintaining safety.  Vendors who supply personal safety equipment such as safety gloves, goggles and shoes can even be persuaded to provide these items free of charge for regular customers.

“We’ve been leaning on suppliers to give us a kickback like a golf shirt or other non-safety items. They typically have these items as part of their marketing to give away at trade shows. They’ve been really good at providing this stuff, since we’re just asking them to throw in one shirt or cap. We built up a stash this way to give away as incentives.”

Other freebies are also available from municipalities, health associations and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers, she says. They often offer pamphlets on a wide variety of health and safety topics, which can be distributed to staff to provide reminders and tips about nutrition, stress management and other areas of concern for the company. 

“Our guys are on the road eating junk food, so I’ll include pamphlets about nutrition with their pay stubs to remind them to eat healthier lunches. The City of Halton and Toronto are very good sources – they have pamphlets galore. The Canadian Diabetes Association, Canadian Cancer Society and other health associations are also good sources.”

Should and shouldn’t

Training is the first area most OHS managers facing budgetary constraints should review to refocus on high-risk areas, says Janet Sellery, an independent OHS consultant based in Stratford.

But there are many inexpensive sources for training that OHS managers should research. “Most communities have health units, so you can arrange to have public health inspectors come and do a session on infection prevention. And most police departments offer sessions on personal safety. It’s important to keep safety awareness going even if you have to deliver it in a different way.”

OHS managers need to prioritize and invest scarce dollars in problem areas. “Everyone would like a wellness program with massage therapists. So if you have a lot of office workers with RSI, then you do need to look at ergonomics — but if not, that’s where (you have) to cut back.”

While there’s no one set of best practices for budgetary investments that will work for all companies, government audit checklists can be used as guides to help OHS managers prioritize.

“I use Ontario’s Work Well WSIB audit as a checklist, as it’s a standard by which a company will be measured at some point if it’s selected for an audit. It covers all the components inspectors look at so it helps you prioritize. Every province has some kind of audit checklist available from whatever authority manages health and safety,” Sellery says. 

She warns against the complacency that can come when companies have established safety programs in place. “If there have been staff reductions, people who have beautiful binders for their programs sometimes think that’s all that’s needed. But you need to keep safety on the front burner continuously, otherwise you’re just waiting for an incident to drive your program.”

It may seem more work to scrounge around for ways to maintain safety awareness, but she points out that managing a WSIB claim is far more work. “Massive amounts of documentation and effort go into it. You could have done a pile of training or other work with that time.”

She also warns against the cut-and-paste approach of modifiying a template to establish a new safety program instead of working with staff to develop it. While modifying existing policies and procedures from other companies may appear to save time and money, the more labour-intensive approach of meeting with staff to develop a program can actually reduce the amount of training or campaigning required afterwards.

“A lot of training is about selling workers a safety concept that’s being imposed, for example, you should always wear a hard hat. But if staff come to you with a safety concern, and you work with them to develop a program, they’re already sold. If you have their buy-in and involvement, it means you don’t have to train the same way,” Sellery says.

OHS managers should be careful about using safety incentives in a tough economy, says Duff Boyd, OHS director at New Brunswick Power. “Incentives buy short-term results, but over time, you’re actually subverting your efforts. What was once a perk becomes an entitlement, and if the company takes it away when it runs into financial difficulties, people get grumpy.”

Many companies cutting back on staff expect more overtime, so joint health and safety committee meetings may go the wayside to save time — but this is wrong-headed, says Boyd. 

“The areas you don’t want to cut back on are the ones that are most visible to the workforce. I’m not suggesting this is the area where you get the most bang for your OHS buck, but it has a larger psychological impact as the meetings are critical in maintaining a safety culture.”

Companies may not understand that cuts in non-OHS areas may nevertheless have an impact on injury rates, as many seemingly peripheral factors are inter-connected, he says. For example, companies may be cutting back on supervisory and HR positions. “But those areas play a leadership role in creating a safety culture.”

Frustrated OHS managers at some companies complain that despite providing workers with plenty of safety gear and training, accidents nevertheless occur. Boyd says policies, procedures and equipment do no good unless the worker is in the right frame of mind to apply them.

“If a power line worker has been up all night with a sick child, can he go to his supervisor and tell the truth that he’s not in fit condition to do dangerous work? If he gets a response like, ‘Suck it up, princess, and get to work!’, this contributes to injuries. It’s all about relationships with supervisors, HR and other parties.”

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Rosie Lombardi is a Toronto-based freelance writer. You can contact her at rosielombardi@hotmail.com

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