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Safety Programs in a Difficult Labor Market

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Safety Programs in a Difficult Labor Market

Employers across the US have faced difficult circumstances during the last 18 months, including labor shortages, disruption in supply chains, changing directives regarding masks and social distancing, state and local vaccine mandates, and inflation. These are challenges every employer is dealing with as they simply try to keep their doors open during these remarkable times.

These challenges affect bottom line results, either by reducing output, increasing costs, or both. One of the more unique challenges employers face is the difficulty of filling job openings with qualified candidates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover report issued on October 12 produced the following statistics:

  • 10.4 million job openings – a slight decrease from previous months
  • 6.3 million hires – a slight decrease from previous months
  • 4.3 million job quits – an increase from previous months

It’s no surprise employers struggle to find qualified candidates to fill job vacancies across all industries. Because it’s so difficult to find new candidates, retaining the current workforce is a priority for employers. While wages are an important part of the strategy to retain good employees, employers should consider other approaches as well. 

For employers in construction, manufacturing, industrial, and transportation industries, safety is an important strategy to retain valued workers. This may be a strategy where employers have the greatest ability to achieve the desired outcome. While it may be difficult to compete with rising wages associated with a tight labor market, it’s far more effective and less expensive for employers to keep their employees safe and on the job. Employers simply cannot afford to lose employees to work-related injuries.

Effective safety programs can prevent injuries, including those that result in time away from work or restrictions in the employee’s ability to perform their normal job functions. Additionally, the occurrence of incidents and injuries in the workplace can contribute to a degradation in safety culture, resulting in increased turnover or the inability to attract new employees concerned about safety in the workplace. 

In addition to the obvious benefit of preventing workplace injuries, effective safety programs can also promote the employer’s strong commitment to safety. This contributes to a culture of safety while enhancing the employer’s image in the community and its ability to attract new workers who value safety in the workplace. 

Unfortunately, I can’t offer a silver bullet solution to improve safety in the workplace. Today’s successful safety programs are a complex mix of demonstrated commitment, hazard identification, hazard control, responsibility, accountability, and continuous improvement. Strong safety cultures take time to build, so employers must decide if retaining employees through establishing an effective safety program should be part of their retention strategy. 

It has been said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This also applies to safety programs, but how do you “measure” a safety program? The traditional method looks at lagging indicators, including OSHA incident rates and workers’ compensation experience modification ratings. A more effective method is to focus on leading indicators rather than waiting to count the number and extent of injuries. 

Measuring the culture of safety is possible through the completion of anonymous safety perception surveys. We’ve also heard the phrase “perception is reality,” and these surveys can gauge a worker’s perception of the employer’s safety program. While the employer management team may believe it maintains an industry-leading safety program, employees may feel differently. The safety perception survey identifies gaps to facilitate the development of programs to eliminate them. 

Employers should consider using this difficult labor market as an opportunity to evaluate and improve the quality and effectiveness of the safety program. If you’re interested in evaluating your safety culture or making improvements in your safety program, our team of consultants is ready to help.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.