ESF and Wesco’s article, Safety Best Practices to Implement in the Year Ahead, was recently published on EHS Today’s website. Read the article here.

Safety Best Practices to Implement in the Year Ahead
By Brett Brenner, ESF, and Shawn Gregg, Wesco

The beginning of a new year brings with it a multitude of new resolutions, new beginnings and new changes. If we employ this mentality in our personal lives, why not also in our workplaces?

The 2024 edition of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, brings with it new opportunities and standards, including setting general requirements for electrical safety-related work practices and establishing electrically safe work conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) national emphasis program’s focus on harmful conditions, behaviors and hazards can bring attention to issues within your own workplace. 

Both of these provide great opportunities to make safety a top priority and resolution in the year ahead. By establishing a workplace safety plan that follows the practices laid out in NFPA 70E and OSHA standards, as well as incorporating preventative measures, you will actively help to build a safety culture throughout your workplace. Establishing safety as a core value of your company and a part of your mission will keep your employees safe and also avoid complacency in 2024 and beyond.

Where to Start

So you want to improve your environment, health and safety (EHS) program, but where do you begin? The first step is to assess the state of your EHS culture. Then, you can work toward developing a site-specific safety plan by first determining your hazards to establish how best to protect your employees. Every workplace is unique, so by understanding what you need to improve and how injuries are impacting your environment, you can begin to address the overall safety of your workplace.

The basic components of any workplace safety plan include risk identification, understanding the compliance standards applicable for your environment, and understanding your safety gaps. Assessing your risk and conducting a day-to-day job safety analysis are crucial, particularly with tasks not regularly assigned. When workers complete a task they are unfamiliar with or don’t regularly perform, the chance of injury is elevated. According to data gathered by the Electrical Safety Foundation (ESFI), between 2011 and 2022, 49% of fatalities occurred when a worker was completing a task they were not normally assigned to complete.

Additionally, 70% of electrically related fatalities happened to non-electrical workers who may not have completed any electrical safety training. It is imperative to identify the hazards that accompany every job task and have control measures in place to ensure that risk is reduced for all employees.  

How to get Employees Involved

The most important items to focus on when getting employees involved in the improvement of your safety culture is proper communication and engagement. You need to bridge the gap between expectations of management and the work being conducted in the field. The bigger that gap is, the more risk you have for a weak safety culture. 

Seeking employee feedback on the hazards they routinely encounter and ensuring open communication and feedback, without fear of repercussions, is critical. Open lines of communication will foster engagement and a flow of information to improve your safety culture. Communicate with your employees to demonstrate how a positive culture of safety will affect them and show them that you care about their well-being.

A key factor to a plan’s success is creating accountability, commitment and engagement at all levels of your organization, from the CEO all the way to the workers on the jobsite. In order to create a shared vision for safety, treat your EHS program like a marketing campaign and engage all levels to deliver appropriate and relevant messages.

When it comes to training your employees on safety principles, providing educational materials that are easy to understand is key. You can provide a step-by-step guide but also provide contextual information on why procedures should be followed in order to get buy-in. It’s also imperative to provide information in as many languages as your workplace requires.

Employers and employees need to understand that compliance is the first step to keeping them safe, and the consequences for not following safety protocol are severe. As of January 2023, OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations is $15,625 per violation, while the maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is $156,259 per violation. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the average cost for all accident claims combined between 2020-2021 was $41,757.

Compliance is the foundation that will allow your safety culture to evolve toward planning for the future and preventing hazards and injuries before they occur. By communicating incentives and consequences and launching your EHS plan as a campaign, roadblocks to engagement will be reduced and implementation increased.

By changing the narrative and focusing less on the legal requirements of compliance and more about your employee’s safety, employees will understand why your workplace safety program is crucial to everyone’s success. There is nothing more important than ensuring your workers go home safely at the end of the workday.

2024 Outlook and Connected Safety

The global supply chain is still suffering from pandemic-related labor shortages and shutdowns. The widespread delay of products and shortage of personnel can lead to workplaces that focus on productivity and output instead of safety, which introduces a greater risk of injury.

Other trending workplace safety concerns include psychological safety and mental health as part of an employee’s overall well-being and heat or cold stress. Currently, there is no OSHA standard for weather-related stress, but there is a national emphasis program. It is also important to note the impact that distractions and mental load have on employees; if they’re not fully focused on a task, there is a far greater risk of being involved in an accident. 

Human factors and ergonomics continue to be a safety concern, especially with the rise of remote and hybrid work. These injuries are not immediately noticed as they develop over time from repetitive tasks, bad posture or other tasks that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It is an employer’s duty to ensure their employee’s safety, whether they’re working in the office or in their homes. 

On that note, OSHA launched a national emphasis program in July 2023 to prevent workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers and high-risk retail facilities. The program places a strong focus on heat and ergonomic hazards as well as forklift safety. It is important to focus on the tools available to help manage these challenges to make sure safety doesn’t take a back seat.

Wearable safety devices and technologies can also be an invaluable tool to help keep workers safe on the jobsite. Wearable devices, including gloves and fault protection soft goods, have multiple injury-reducing technologies that can keep workers safe and provide immediate haptic feedback on unsafe motions. Some devices can also monitor biometric indicators, including heart rate or temperature levels, and send alerts if they reach unsafe levels. Others, such as robots, can even replace dangerous tasks that were previously completed by humans, thereby removing the risks associated with the job completely.

Adopting new technologies can help you identify hazards and prevent accidents. With advanced analytics, you can look at the data captured to track the total incidents and identify opportunities to train your employees to avoid those situations in the future.

Be Proactive About Safety

Demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) for any safety program can be challenging. Your Experience Modification Rate (EMR), or your organization’s historical cost of injuries and risk of future incidents, is your safety report card. This proves how you value safety and can be helpful in demonstrating ROI. A poor EMR rating, or lack of effective safety programs, may detract away from future business with potential partners.

It can be challenging to justify the amount of money spent on a safety program, but investing in the tools to understand and improve your safety reputation will ultimately impact your bottom line and reputation. With OSHA increasing their fines and implementing national focus programs, you may find it beneficial to investigate safety trends and the cost of potential incidents to determine if expenses are worthwhile.

A company needs to decide if they want to invest in a robust safety program or potentially pay much higher OSHA fines if an incident occurs. By working with your company workers’ compensation provider to understand what your EMR rate is, you can demonstrate how much money can be saved by implementing safety practices and technologies. Your provider can help connect you with contractors to assist with the services and even help offset some of the costs of the services through your plan.

To improve your workplace safety plan and the overall safety of your organization, you need to emphasize leading indicators over lagging indicators. Lagging indicators—injury or fatality data that occurred in the past—do not focus on how you will effectively prevent these injuries in the future.

When you focus on leading indicators, including safety concerns that have been raised by employees and how many safety inspections have been performed in your facilities, you will be able to more effectively correct hazards before they become accidents. Understanding where your safety gaps exist and emphasizing leading indicators is a crucial step in shifting from a reactive to proactive safety culture, driving down the incidents occurring in your workplace. Utilizing safety tools, including wearable technology and predictive analytics, will help you stay ahead of incidents before they occur. 

Brett Brenner is the president of the Electrical Safety Foundation.

Shawn Gregg is vice president of global safety at Wesco