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Risk in Context

Getting to Zero: 10 Principles for Reducing Workplace Safety Incidents

Posted by Larry Pearlman May 25, 2017

Over the past decade, companies have put significant effort and investment into creating safer workplaces. And that hard work is paying off: From 2005 to 2015, the recordable occupational injury and illness incident rate for all US companies fell 47%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Leading employers consistently achieve recordable incident rates of less than 1.0 per 100 full-time workers and are now targeting virtually injury-free workplaces. A select few companies have proven that incident rates of less than 0.15 are possible and sustainable. So what you can learn from these leaders? And how can you replicate their success in your workplace?

What Sets Leaders Apart

Companies that have had success in reducing workplace injuries have approached this in phases. Typically, they have started with technology and standards, progressed to policies and practices, and then moved into behavioral safety and creating “caring cultures.” In these organizations, leaders are visible and prominent safety advocates.

The most advanced companies have gone even further. These leaders look at the interface between people and their equipment and systems and ensure that barriers are in place to prevent safety hazards from materializing.

10 Guiding Principles

For employers looking to replicate the success of these leading firms, we suggest the following 10 principles:

  1. Workplace safety should be inseparable from operations.
  2. Risk reduction should be given the same consideration as other business decisions, such as efficiency and top-line growth.
  3. Plant managers and above should be formally evaluated to determine their safety competence.
  4. Safety managers at all levels should be visible, engaged, and inquisitive about working conditions and safety practices.
  5. Leaders should proactively seek to identify vulnerabilities in hardware that prevent hazards from materializing.
  6. Managers should understand how and why humans fail and actively seek to eliminate the causes and/or realization of human failure points.
  7. All employees should see themselves as safety leaders — and company management should demonstrate that it values the relationship between safety, quality, productivity, and customer service.
  8. Employers should team with contractors and suppliers to manage safety. They should work together to eliminate hazards, manage relationships, and provide assurance — to each other and the company — that work is being done safely.
  9. Employers should ensure that safety metrics are relevant, actionable, and understandable to drive safety outcomes.
  10. Employers should use advanced and predictive analytics techniques — from big data applications to a simpler measures, like preventive maintenance practices and employee patterns — to prevent safety incidents.

Not every employer can master all 10 of these principles. But those with the safest workplaces have made great strides in each. Applying them to your workplace can help you become a safety leader, too.

For more on this topic, listen to a replay of our webcast, "World-Class Safety: How Great Companies Progress to Awesome."

Larry Pearlman

Larry Pearlman is a senior vice president with the Workforce Strategies Practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, located in the Chicago office.