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Workplace Safety: No Better Time than Now 
Steve Thompson, ARM, COSS and Dan Hopwood, M.P.H., ARM, CBCP
Co-Authors of the book, Workplace Safety: A Guide for Small and Midsized Companies

When our book, Workplace Safety: A Guide for Small and Midsized Companies was published, we found some success in sharing with our readers (and with audiences during speeches and classes), a fundamental principle of safety. The mechanism we used in sharing this principle with many thousands, focused on what we referred to in the book as the “Churchill Paradox.” We think a brief review of this paradox is an apt beginning to this article and a tremendous connector to the other aspects of safety we will be reviewing with you.

The Paradox
In World War II, Winston Churchill was looking for all the help he could get. War weary, the U.S. was making every effort possible to stay out of the European Theater, with the net effect being that Europe was being overrun by the Nazi’s and England was being laid to waste. When we as a nation did get involved, with our allies, of course, we turned the tide and helped save a nation, a culture, and many millions of people. Churchill, thankful though he was, often commented on how long it took the U.S. to make up its collective mind and get involved. He was quoted as saying: “The Americans are a great country. You can always count on them to do the right thing … after they have tried everything else.”

The relevance to safety you ask? As business managers we intuitively understand the impact that injuries, illnesses and asset damage or destruction has on our operations and bottom line. But still, the relative stress of day-to-day necessities somehow pulls many from what are personnel, economic, and regulatory mandates in the safety arena. These necessities face every business owner or manager… and the longer that safety activities are not made part of normalized business activities, the greater the likelihood they never will. Or at least, they will be meager in effort and impact. To achieve successful safety outcomes, it is imperative that we “get at it,” and not try everything else, including reliance upon luck, or the hope that passive safety activities work for you, first. 

Essential Safety: Developing a Roadmap
Since we know that there are personnel, economic and regulatory considerations present in every business, the question then becomes, where do you focus your time and energies - in an economically oriented fashion, to manage the safety and health of the people and resources of your organization? Let’s talk about a basic roadmap to overcome the paradox of waiting; that is trying a variety of things and hoping your safety program will somehow succeed. Our encouragements to you… develop a roadmap by engaging your management, supervisory, and employee teams. Working together will allow you to develop the proper tools, directions, and more importantly, focus.

The goal of a safety program is to keep people safe and ensure their ability to continue working and being productive… so it’s important to understand the nature of operations and identify hazards that can injure employees or perhaps make them ill.

As safety professionals we understand that life and business are not benign. But, we can control the interaction of employees and hazards and mitigate the outcome, by either reducing the magnitude of an injury or illness or eliminating the potential for one altogether. However, you can not control that which you have not identified! So, start the roadmap process by actively identifying operational hazards and developing controls for those you have documented.

Roadmap Components
Though we tend to operate under the assumption that all business owners want to oversee safe operations, we find that it is essential to always offer a gentle reminder. Doing so not only makes economic and regulatory sense, it is a duty from a moral perspective as well. With this moral compass and a desire to become engaged in the safety process, what type of activities should you undertake to assure your roadmap is properly directed? Following are some thoughts that apply to almost everyone. 

Creating an Effective Workplace Safety Program
The goal of an effective workplace safety program is the development of a long-term plan that is successful in protecting people from injury and death, complying with regulations, and controlling the associated financial costs of loss. An effective plan must include methods to:

• Identify and understand all hazards, real and potential
• Prevent and control hazards so workers are not exposed or the exposure is minimized

Core Regulatory Requirements
Sound safety leadership results in prevention and control of employee injuries, exposures to toxic substances, and other unhealthful conditions (which can produce work-related illnesses). Effective workplace safety systems produce lower costs, higher productivity, reduced waste, and improved employee morale.

Although workplace safety programs go by different names, each state requires that there be a written workplace safety program (injury and illness prevention and reduction program) that promotes safety and healthful working conditions. An employer must conduct and document a review of the workplace safety program at least annually and document how procedures set forth in the program are met. In addition, all training and communication must be in a language that your employees understand. To facilitate this diversity, many companies translate their programs to accommodate their workforce.

Your written workplace safety program must contain these core elements:

1. Management commitment and responsibility (how managers, supervisors, and employees are responsible for implementing the program and how continued participation of management will be established, measured, and maintained). This section delineates management’s commitment (in writing) to safety and health.
2. Employee involvement (and how safe work practices and rules will be enforced). This section discusses ensuring compliance among the workforce regarding codes of safe practice and any other safety and health procedures designed to safeguard their welfare. We have determined through practice and diligent observation, that engaging your employees is an essential aspect to the successful creation and deployment of your roadmap to improve safety activities. Whether employees assist with creating checklists, help with training, participate on a safety committee, or are utilized in a myriad of other ways, their involvement will reap many rewards.
3. Work-site analysis (the methods used to identify, analyze, and control new or existing hazards, conditions, and operations).
4. Hazard recognition and resolution (how workplace hazards are recognized and resolved, and how incidents will be investigated and corrective action implemented).
5. Incident Investigations (Another tactical element of a successful safety program, incident [or accident] investigations help identify how injuries or illness occurred and what corrective action must be undertaken to control the potential for similar events to take place in the future. Just as importantly, incident investigations are outstanding tools to identify training needs). 
6. Training and education (how the plan will be communicated to all affected employees so that they are informed of work-related hazards and controls). This section provides for internal communications that highlight workplace hazards and applicable safety and health procedures. Though training employees on a variety of safety considerations is important, it can not serve as the sole determinant of whether you will have a successful safety program. Coupled with hazards recognition and resolution, training becomes a much stronger component of your overall safety activities. 
7. Record keeping (The maintaining of injury and illness, safety training, and inspection records).

Program Review
Employers must conduct and document a review of the workplace safety program at least annually and document how procedures set forth in the program are met. Program review is vital because it serves as a check to see if the organization is making progress toward its goal of creating a safer, healthier workplace for all employees.

The primary focus of the annual evaluation effort should be to determine whether the organization has made progress in achieving the workplace safety program’s goals and objectives within the past year and, if so, whether the progress made actually improved worker safety and health. If an organization has achieved the goals and objectives described in its safety and health program, it should set new goals and objectives for the coming year to further improve safety and health on the job. The organization, its management, and its employees should work continually to improve workplace safety, just as they do to improve quality, cost effectiveness, and other facets of the business.

If an organization is not meeting its objectives, especially the ones established specifically for the previous year, it needs to determine why. Perhaps the organization is improving and moving toward its goal but just has not reached it yet. Timelines should be established or reestablished for each of the objectives and the overall goals. If progress is not being made or is being made too slowly, the goals and objectives need to be examined. Perhaps the goals and objectives are not clear or measurable. Objectives should be clear, concise, and capable of being measured or demonstrated. New objectives may need to be created that act as measurable steps toward achieving the greater goals. Not meeting objectives may also indicate that there are problems (sometimes serious) with the overall safety and health program that need to be addressed.

The first step in a program evaluation should be to review the documentation created during the past year relevant to the workplace safety and health program.

Completing the Program Review
After the evaluation process is completed, the workplace safety program should be updated to correct shortfalls, and new goals should be set for the organization. Responsibility for making the program changes should be assigned to a specific person or persons, and implementation or due dates should be specified to ensure that the program is updated in a timely manner. Finally, changes to the program, goals, and procedures need to be communicated to everyone within the organization.

While the laws require that workplace safety programs be reviewed at least annually, ideally the program should be referred to, reviewed, and updated as necessary. This keeps the program fresh, accurate, and an integral part of the organization.

Set Achievable Goals
Central to a successful workplace safety program are the goals and objectives an organization sets for its overall safety and health program. We have found that many safety programs ultimately fail, not because business managers don’t care about the safety and welfare of their employees… rather it’s that sometimes they “bite off more than they can chew.”

The focus of the goals set generally should be allocated toward the on-going identification of processes, equipment and materials that can injure a worker.

Goals establish the direction for the program and state what the organization wants to achieve through it. The best goals are generally challenging to reach or complete but are also possible to achieve. They should be specific to the organization or facility.

Objectives are the specific actions that will be taken to attempt to achieve the goals. The best objectives are those that can either be measured or demonstrated.

Ideally, safety and health programs should correspond with and become part of the organization’s overall mission or business plan. Every employee should know what the goals of the organization’s safety program are and how they are to be achieved.

Some examples of goals and objectives are:

Goal 1
• We will reduce our injury and illness rate by 15 percent by 2009, using 2006 as the baseline.
• We will address all employee safety issues in a timely manner; that is, hazards that potentially pose an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury will be addressed initially within one shift, and other hazards will be addressed initially within one week.
• We will perform a monthly safety inspection of all departments and will take corrective action or begin investigating long-term solutions for all hazards identified during the inspection within one week.
• We will investigate all incidents and near-miss events and will take corrective action within 24 hours to prevent a recurrence.

Goal 2
• We will establish and maintain a company culture that is committed to workplace safety and health.
• We will conduct regular safety meetings on a quarterly basis to inform employees about specific workplace safety and health issues and to build an overall awareness of employee safety and health.
• We will actively enforce all safety rules throughout the company.
• Our facility will apply for a state or federal voluntary protection program status by the end of 2008.

Safety as a Company Value
In addition to core regulatory requirements, and the strong link between active workplace safety programs and low rates of occupational injury and illness, we advocate that you make employee safety and health an intrinsic company value (that working safe is not just a “program,” but a way of doing things). 

Ideally, safety and health programs should correspond with and become part of the organization’s overall mission or business plan. Every employee should know what the goals of the organization’s safety program are and how they are to be achieved.

Safety must be integrated as an intrinsic company value (not a priority) among every leader, manager, and employee in the organization. Safety should be viewed as a value just like honesty, working hard, and showing up to work on time. Values are embedded; while priorities can change. Making safety a company value leads to building a workplace safety culture. 

We create a workplace safety culture by (1) making safety part of the performance appraisal process, (2) practicing “active caring” techniques, (3) engaging employees at all levels, and (4) having company leaders, managers, and employees commit to being safe. An organization should expect its leaders, managers, and people to make safety a value.

Connect the Dots
There is a critical connection between successful safety programs and other aspects of a business that is “succeeding.” Safety programs, when they work, can help organizations in ways beyond keeping people safe. For example, successful programs may reduce relative expenses for such things as workers’ compensation insurance, improve personnel relations, economize elements of operations and help maintain a sound regulatory compliance picture. It is important to look at safety programs in this fashion, as they (the program and all its activities) are not islands unto themselves. They are and must be, to achieve a long-lasting, positive outcome, horizontally integrated into all aspects of a business, not a stand alone function.

Winning Safety Model
In our book we highlight a number of safety professionals and their comments about creating a successful safety program. Combined, these important points tell a story, and none can be accomplished without taking that first step and getting involved. A Winning Safety Model:

1. Identifies and understands hazards, real and potential
2. Prevents and controls hazards so workers are not exposed or the exposure is minimized
3. Meets core regulatory requirements 
4. Emphasizes management commitment and responsibility
5. Identifies safety as a company value (versus priority)
6. Involves and engages employees
7. Seeks the well-being of employees first… genuine care and concern for the workforce

Concluding Thoughts
If you take one thing away from this article, it is that for there to be safety success, you have to start – start doing something. Hazard identification and control activities, training, start a safety committee; do something, anything! There is no magic to delaying– no one will undertake safety efforts on your behalf. But just as importantly, our experience clearly suggests that if you pay attention to the basics, consistently deploy them and engage your workforce on-the-whole, you will make progress and hedge your bets toward success.


Steve Thompson is President of Aspen Risk Management Group. Contact Steve at: 619-294-9863, or via the Web at: www.aspenrmg.com

Dan Hopwood is a Risk and Safety Professional and Advisor to Aspen Risk Management Group