Safety Communications for Today's Workforce
In order for this transition to take place, companies cannot pick and choose which safety procedures to enforce—consistency is key.
- By Steven Chang
- Apr 01, 2016
Billions of dollars are spent every year by American companies in relation to workplace accidents, very little of that covered by insurance. When medical, legal, and productivity costs are taken into effect, an average accident is in the neighborhood of $40,000.1
June 2015 gave many companies a much-needed wakeup call when OSHA announced a crackdown on health care facilities because of an epidemic of preventable injuries among workers. Companies of all sizes are realizing that one of their best investments is in the area of workplace safety.
Today, more and more companies are implementing safety communications as a core value. This focus toward a safety-centric workplace is improving not only employee morale, but also the bottom line. The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reported that for every $1 a company invests in workplace safety, the result amounts to a $4 return on investment. (This comes through workers' comp, lost time, efficiency, legal, etc.)2
Fostering a truly safety-centric workplace environment begins from within. Proper procedures and methods need to be outlined and implemented by supervisors taking the time and necessary steps to ingrain a safety-centric mentality in their employees. Workers must be able to trust that their leaders have safety as the number one priority, over profits, and that they can report to them if they notice any unsafe activity.
This type of behavior does not happen overnight. A successful transition to a safety-centric workplace culture takes time and, in order for this transition to take place, companies cannot pick and choose which safety procedures to enforce—consistency is key.
The Evolution of Safety Communications
Communication is the most effective tool in any face of business, and workplace safety is no exception. In order for a truly safety-centric workplace to be in effect, safety hazards, area guidelines, rules, regulations, warnings, goals, and progress reports must be made to employees across an array of media.
With a workforce that is more distributed and more mobile than ever before, supervisors are facing extreme communication barriers. Relying on traditional, static poster boards stating "x number of days since an accident," outdated signs, and the occasional meetings can only do so much. Due to its static nature, employees will only pay attention to a sign for so long before their attention starts to drift. It is because of this drift that the static poster nestled in the corner for 16 years displaying all of the rules and regulation for that particular area is seemingly meaningless.
Much like the general population, companies need to embrace the digital age when it comes to safety communication. More and more businesses are adapting a new sense of safety culture by using digital signage that provides them with the ability to reach their entire workforce via digital displays, desktop communications, and handheld devices.
By embracing these digital means of communications, companies now have the ability to reach up to 100 percent of employees—whether they are in a field 100 miles away or at their desk in the corporate office. Software exists that collects, analyzes, and prepares data to display on an array of media. This information used in real time creates a safer and more productive workplace, keeping every employee up to date.
Providing an efficient and effective way to provide regular updates on employee and safety performance is one of many advantages from embracing digital signage for safety communications. By turning that static "days since last incident" sign that rarely gets updated into a dynamic, highly visible counter on a digital sign goes a long way toward reinforcing a metric that employees appreciate and recognize as important.
Due to the fact that many companies have a diverse and global workforce, an often-overlooked area of effective safety communication is the necessity to transcend language barriers. It is imperative that messages be highly visible, easy to read, and color coded. All employees need to be connected at any given time for a company to truly become a safety-centric workplace.
Effective safety communications and consistent connectivity can be the key to saving lives. According to OSHA, the top 10 areas for which citations are issued include:
- Hazard communication
- Electrical wiring methods
- Electrical system design
- Guarding openings
- Mechanical power transmission
- Respiratory protection
- Portable fire extinguishers
Many of these can be avoided if the proper safety program is in place: proper training, highly visible and adaptable signage, proper implementation of equipment, and an effective action plan.3
In 1987, newly named Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neill saw the connection of safety and the bottom line and implemented an effective safety communications plan. After just one year as CEO, Alcoa boasted record high profits. During O'Neill’s 13-year tenure, lost work days per 100 workers went from 1.82 to 0.2—an astounding decrease of 89 percent—and Alcoa's annual net income was five times higher than when he started.4
The Benefits of Real-Time Messaging
Companies that already have embraced digital technology in regard to safety communications and achieved a truly safety-centric workplace have taken the necessary proactive steps to ensure their employees, and their bottom line, stay positive.
Another major benefit of digital signage is its ability to be updated in real time, which comes in handy if inclement weather is imminent, for emergency alerts, and equipment reminders.
Digital signage engineers and designers take a multitude of requirements into account when developing their message, such as the audience's motivations, goals, and feelings. With these insights, they can truly develop an effective tool. By having the ability to quantify employee progress and display data in real time utilizing digital signage, companies can gamify work behaviors. Plain data can be less boring when viewed as a game, and the friendly competition allows companies to see an increase in productivity and motivation in their employees.
Yu-kai Chou, a pioneer in the area of gamification, defines gamification as "the craft of deriving fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities." Gamification in the workplace fosters an employee base that feels more engaged with their work. This is because the resulting data can be used make them feel good (intrinsic reward) and allow them to be rewarded for their achievements (extrinsic reward).
By giving employees a goal they can achieve and monitor in real time, they will be much more engaged at what they do and be happier to help the company succeed. It has been proven that companies with higher employee engagement often outperform their competitors.
By accepting this new wave of technological advancements, the workplace is able to thrive. Safety messages can effectively reach every employee, remote or on site, and proactive measures can be implemented effectively before problems become severe. A safety-centric workplace begins with the company culture and taking the steps to achieve goals. Utilizing digital signage is a step in the right direction.
Companies need to take the necessary steps to ingrain in their employees the importance of workplace safety to truly foster safer workplace conditions from the warehouse all the way to the field. It all begins with the leaders of the company; it is their responsibility to make sure the right preemptive measures are being implemented.
Given the connections between displaying real-time data, increased productivity, increased moral, and a better bottom line, it is no wonder companies are implementing safety communications as a core value. The days of often-overlooked static messages are over; the future is in digital signage that breaks through the noise, overcomes short attention spans, and motivates and influences positive behavior.
3. Murray, M. (n.d.). Warehouse Safety -- About OSHA Standards
4. (O'Donnell, 2015)
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.