Who Cares How Many Days You’ve Gone Without an OSHA Recordable?

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(This article originally ran in the August 2011 issue of OSP Magazine.)

Do you want to be the employee who ruins the record? Imagine that you are an employee who, for the past 26 years, has done a good job. The quality and quantity of your production has been highly acceptable by everyone. In fact, other employees strive to be like you because supervisors and managers say: “We wish everyone was like (you).”

Then one day you are working on a project and properly bending your knees and keeping your spine straight, and “snap” — a sound you’ve never heard and a pain that you’ve never felt in you lower back. At this point your attitude is: “How did that happen?”

The next day you are off work for the first day in your 26-year career; 3 days later you return. As a person who values your personal integrity more than your job, you don’t even think about the storm that awaits you when you return to work.Your first day back to work and you are called to a meeting that includes your supervisor, his manager, the VP of your division, a human resource specialist, a union representative, the safety manager, and the workman’s compensation manager. You are placed at the end of the long conference table opposite the VP.

The first question is: “So what did you do that caused your injury?”

“Honestly, I don’t know.”

“Did you bend your knees and keep your spine straight?”

“Yes.”

“Then how could this have happened?”

For the first time in your career, you feel like you’re being accused of wrong-doing. You have heard of other injured workers being subjected to meetings like this, but you did everything right. Questions begin to flow and you are beginning to get uncomfortable, fearful, and mad. Then the question is asked, “Do you realize that you have broken our record of 626 days without an OSHA recordable?”

You think to yourself: Oh, that’s what this is about. So all the talk about how much they care about me comes down to this: We care about our safety record more.

The Focus on Measurements
Using measurements to manage performance is not a new concept. Unfortunately, many of the companies we deal with focus solely on the number and severity of injuries; therefore, this is what gets everyone’s attention.

Some companies have programmable digital signs that automatically add another day to the “days worked without an injury” unless the program is reset.

Recently, we talked to a young woman who was injured on the job. She genuinely felt bad; she was the reason the numbers on the sign had to be reset. Consequently, adding to her pain and embarrassment, several coworkers “thanked” her for ruining their safety record (and affecting their safety award).

The unintended consequence of the company’s primary focus on the number of days without an incident was a negative safety climate. No one wants to get hurt — and we have never met a member of management who does not care if someone gets hurt as long as the job gets done. Yet, what is measured, and what is talked about, are ultimately how “caring” is interpreted.

When it comes to safety we have to focus on what we can do to reduce the risk and make sure that nobody gets hurt. Macro numbers such as the number of days without injury or the number of injuries and days away from work can help a company, or a division, track the overall trends. However, safety must be dealt with at the micro, or personal, level.

Dealing With the Personal Measures
Safety equipment and work practices exist because we have learned what works. Employees who choose to not use safety equipment or follow safe work practices are a hazard to themselves and others. These situations must be confronted and are best handled between the involved employee(s) and the immediate supervisor.

It is an essential aspect of supervision and management to track and manage performance individually. If an employee is injured repeatedly, then the supervisor must take corrective action, including ensuring that the employee is trained and qualified to do the work.

Some injuries may be the result of worn joints, tired muscles, or a combination of all the above. Management that pushes workers beyond their human limits can cause injury as well.

Profits are important to keeping the doors open and the company in business to provide jobs. The key is in understanding that most employees and management leaders are safety minded.

Three Tips to Keep the Awareness High Without Overemphasizing the Measurements
Keeping safety awareness to a level requires everyone to have the right attitude; the numbers may help, but they also may hinder. Consider these 3 thoughts to maintain the proper focus:

1. No “good” employee wants to get hurt; however there are some employees who don’t need to be doing some jobs. Some jobs require constant focus to prevent injuries, and many jobs require the employee to adhere to strict safety rules that cannot be compromised. Ensure that employees are aware of the specific requirements for their jobs, and take time to recognize jobs done safely.

2. No person in management wants to see another human being injured. The assumption is that each supervisor and manager knows how to deal with employee performance individually and as a group. Every management leader should look at the tasks to which their employees are assigned and ask themselves: “Have we provided the appropriate resources to do the job safely?”

3. The goal of every manager and employee should be: Nobody Gets Hurt. Working together for the common goal is key. If this means sitting down with an employee and asking questions about the work, so be it. If it means taking corrective actions, then do it. Creating a safe workplace requires both, and the only acceptable target is zero.

Who Cares?
The next time you see a “how many days we’ve gone without an injury” sign at your workplace or at another location, ask yourself: “Who really cares?”

Certainly, every day that nobody gets hurts is worthy of recognition. Take time to find out what is working well, and pay attention to the things that can keep people from getting hurt at your place of work. After all, we’re all after the same goal: Nobody Gets Hurt.

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