Want to Reap the Benefits of Workplace Safety?

Get a group of workplace safety advocates from diverse industries together, and you’ll get a variety of perspectives. But to a man, and woman, they will agree on one thing: Management commitment drives safety.

Some companies demonstrate support from the top by investing in training and personal protective equipment.

Others go leaps and bounds farther by requiring management to follow the same safety procedures as front-line employees follow.

Goodwill Industries is one of a rare few employers that punctuates its commitment to safety by making an example of the person on top of the org chart.

“Last year, our safety coordinator required all employees to take CPR,” said Cathy Rudzinski, vice president and chief financial officer of Goodwill Industries. “Anyone who did not get the training by the deadline would be written up.”

See where this is going? The deadline came and went, and Goodwill CEO Jerry Davis was among a handful of employees who had not complied.

“To Jerry’s credit, he was the first to step up, admit his mistake and accept the consequences,” said Rudzinski.

Those consequences included a mark on Davis’ permanent Goodwill file. Worse yet, he had to report his oversight to Goodwill’s chairman of the board.

“That really put teeth in our safety program,” laughed Cathy. “When your safety coordinator can write up the CEO, employees know that nobody is immune. They understand that safety is a value that never gets compromised…by anyone.”

Rudzinski recently shared Davis’ story during a panel discussion titled “The ROI of Safety in the Workplace.” The free event was a joint production between Texas Mutual and the Austin Business Journal. Attendees got tips from peers who have overcome the hurdles of making safety a core business process.

In many organizations, management unfortunately represents one of those hurdles, according to panelist Jim Sierra. Sierra is vice president of finance at the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

“That’s especially true in a difficult economy,” said Sierra. “You’ve got to show management that safety can actually be a profit center. The fewer accidents you have, the lower your workers’ compensation costs. You are also likely to see production increase because you’re keeping experienced workers on the job.”

Statistics support Sierra’s claims. Employers who invest in safety can reap up to a 600 percent return on their investments, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And let’s not forget about the potential for dividends from Texas Mutual.

Dividends reward policyholders who share Texas Mutual’s commitment to workplace safety. Last year, we distributed a company-record $175 million in dividends among qualifying policyholders.

Members of Sierra’s TxOGA safety group earned additional dividends based on the group’s overall safety record.

Sierra admits that maintaining a good safety record is challenging in the oil and gas industry. Production quotas, coupled with an influx of inexperienced workers cashing in on the industry’s resurgence, contribute to fatality rates that are seven times higher than other industries.

It seems not a day goes by without news of a catastrophic accident in the oilfield.

At the other end of the spectrum are restaurants. The industry may not have as many headline-making accidents as oil and gas, but that doesn’t mean its workers don’t face hazards. Many are young and inexperienced, which increases their risk of being injured.

Panelist Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, encourages managers to demonstrate their commitment to safety by being proactive.

“Our members don’t get eaten to death by tigers; they get pecked to death by ducks,” said Jackson. “What I mean is that those smaller accidents, the slips, falls and burns, are things we can anticipate and head off. It’s critical that young workers see management proactively eliminating hazards before someone gets injured. It sends a clear message that the organization takes safety seriously.”

Still, accidents happen, even in the safest workplaces. When they do, some employers simply replace the injured worker and wait for him or her to return when they’re ready. Panelist Ken Paninski, safety consultant at Texas Fifth Wall Roofing, suggests a different strategy.

“Please, if someone gets injured, do everything you can to get them back to work,” urged Paninski. “The business will benefit in terms of productivity. And the worker will heal faster than they will by sitting at home eating bon bons and watching Oprah.”

Paninski is passionately lobbying in layman’s terms for what insurance professionals call a return-to-work (RTW) program. RTW is a process for getting injured workers well and back on the job as soon as medically reasonable.

Studies show that replacing an injured worker can cost 50 to 150 percent of their salary. RTW offsets those costs for employers. It also benefits injured workers by eliminating the emotional issues that often come with being isolated from peers.But like safety, RTW only works if management buys into the process. Employees have to believe that if they are injured, managers will support them during their recoveries. The goal is to get them well and back to the team.

Sometimes, that means finding alternative work they can do while they recover.

“Let’s say you’ve got a construction worker who can’t go back to the job site right away,” offered Paninski. “Put him to work in the office. He can answer the phone, file paperwork or do something else to contribute to productivity.”

Nobody has to sell panelist Will Newton on the value of RTW. Newton is executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Texas chapter. NFIB’s mission is to help its 24,000 small-business members compete with their larger counterparts.

“Small businesses typically do not have the luxury of hiring safety consultants or claims professionals,” said Newton. “When they lose even one worker to an injury, their productivity takes a big hit. That’s why we encourage our members to embrace return-to-work.”

Texas Mutual offers two free RTW kits in the Safety section at texasmutual.com. One kit provides a step-by-step explanation of the RTW process. The other kit, designed for small businesses, provides only the core ingredients. Both kits show management and employees how to collaborate to launch and continuously improve an RTW program.

“NFIB’s philosophy is, ‘I am my brother’s keeper,’” added Newton. “RTW is consistent with that philosophy. It’s a partnership between management and injured workers that benefits both parties.”

Offered the opportunity to impart one last bit of advice to guests, panelist Marcia Williams, director of human resources at Chuy’s restaurant, expanded on Newton’s thoughts about partnerships.

“Chuy’s thinks of Texas Mutual as a business partner,” said Williams. “They are passionate about preventing workplace accidents, and they support us with free resources. Texas Mutual has teams of experts who can help you make safety part of your company culture.”

We certainly do. In fact, we employ the state’s largest team of safety professionals. They can help everyone on your team, from front-line workers to the CEO, understand the return on investment of workplace safety.