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9 Steps to optimize your job as a safety manager

Author: Tiana Nadeau, Product Marketing Manager

Make your job as a safety manager easier

You carry the well-being of your employees on your shoulders. Your job is never finished, but you can make it less complicated with the right resources. Discover what other safety managers are doing to manage important documents, report incidents, and keep up with regulations.

By the end of this article, you will know:

  • How to keep all your material safety data sheets in one place
  • Where to direct your employees for vital safety information they can access anytime, anywhere
  • How to create a culture of safety across all departments
  • The best ways to reduce incident reports and cut workers’ comp costs
  • How to save your company more money than you spend
  • And much more

Let’s get started

As a safety manager, you wear many hats. Your job is to be part salesman, part policeman, and part cheerleader for your company. You manage a variety of complex programs, train your workers, and ensure compliance with regulators, making you the ultimate multitasker. You have to convince upper management and employees that every program and procedure is designed with their best interest in mind. You are the eyes and ears of the entire organization. No wonder you feel overwhelmed. The workload for safety managers continues to grow every year as new federal standards and programs are introduced. You know there are no shortcuts in safety, but there are some ways to work smarter so you can save time and stress less.

1. Look for digital solutions so you don’t have to update multiple binders around the site.

How many copies of material safety data sheets do you have in your workplace? Depending on the size of your company, you could have dozens scattered throughout the site. If updating yours means printing multiple copies and distributing them each time there’s a minor change, you’re wasting time on paperwork that could be better spent on something that directly impacts your workers.

In a poll by Safety News Alert, safety managers cited keeping up with regulations among their top three concerns, following the challenges of getting senior management to buy into safety and getting cooperation from employees, as their primary concern.

It’s time to start migrating to digital solutions if your company isn’t making that transition already.

2. Create a one-stop shop where employees can access all your company’s safety information.

Look for a software system that integrates multiple safety modules—material safety data sheets, job safety analyses, lockout/tagout procedures, and others—into one location that’s easy to search and update. Not only will this cut down on needless paperwork, but it will also make it easier for employees to access the information.

A few questions you should ask any safety software provider:

  • How frequently is the software updated? Updates should be constant to reflect changes in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.
  • How easily can employees access the information?
  • Is there a limit on how many administrators and users we can have? Can we have multiple users logged in at the same time?
  • Does the software remind you of deadlines for audits, training, and program changes?
  • What does it cost? Does that include monthly license fees and maintenance fees?
  • What type of technical support does the company offer?

3. Create a single area where you can recall any safety information in just minutes.

This will help you pass OSHA audits quickly and successfully. Preparing for your next audit is easier when your safety records are updated and easily searchable. An integrated safety software system allows you to manage not only procedures and training records but also your incidents. Consider a system that automates the process of reporting them to OSHA. This will save you time and ensure all your documents are in order when you or an inspector needs to reference them. You should be able to upload all information that’s relevant to an investigation, including photos, statements, and initial findings.

With a process like this in place, you’ll be able to recall information quickly and provide an immediate response when an OSHA inspector asks for it. If you choose to do so, you can even give the inspector remote access to your information, increasing your company’s transparency. This shows you’re in control and leading the charge in not only reacting to incidents but also proactively taking steps to prevent them.

4. Engage your IT department early on, and help them understand why you need a safety management solution everyone can access.

People are more likely to resist change if they think it’s being forced onto them, and your IT managers are no exception. All too often, department managers approach the IT staff as an afterthought when they’ve already made a decision. Start talking to your IT managers now. Ask them what it would take for a new program to be successfully implemented long before you’ve made a decision. Find out what concerns they have. Think like an IT professional as you ask questions.

If you don’t speak networking, here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • What existing computer program do we need to run the software?
  • Where is the software hosted? Are we able to host it on our own servers instead of the existing location?
  • Can it be integrated with the programs we currently have?
  • What is the storage capacity?
  • How easily can we upload information?

The more information you can present to your IT managers ahead of time, the more helpful they’re likely to be. Show them the transition will be seamless, ultimately saving them time and money in the long run.

5. Make your employees accountable for their own safety.

Safety in the workplace is a learned behavior that develops over time. As a safety manager, you play an important role in creating a culture that embraces it. Workers who feel your company makes their safety the top priority will take steps to stay safe for the right reasons. You can use your safety database to keep employees informed about recently observed trends and incidents that could have been prevented. Use these observations to educate rather than blame. If you can point to a specific instance when a worker was injured carrying a toolbox while attempting to climb a ladder, they’ll be more likely to follow the correct climbing procedure next time. They’ll remind each other to always maintain three points of contact on the ladder because they know the risks are real—and not just because you’re watching.

To increase workers’ accountability, start by studying your incident reports and identifying trends. Wherever you find gaps between the correct procedure and your workers’ typical behavior, there’s room for improvement.

6. Create a plan for inspiring and encouraging employees to use your safety solution.

Any new campaign should be personal, compelling, and simple enough to recall in an instant. It begins at the ground level, with plenty of input and involvement from workers.

The construction industry has had success with the “buddy system” of pairing up employees who are responsible for fitting and checking each other’s personal protective equipment to be sure they are using it properly. When workers feel accountable for each other, they’re more likely to be alert and correct unsafe behaviors. Other industries have established a routine of 2-minute drills required before each job begins. Employees use a checklist, or drill card, to identify potential risks associated with each task and discuss a plan for mitigating them. They make observations about conditions that may have changed at the jobsite since the previous day so they can be prepared to respond accordingly.

The messages your workers see and hear each day should emphasize your goals to reduce workplace injuries and foster a commitment among team members. A few hastily hung safety posters won’t cut it either. Find ways to partner with your senior management team or corporate office, if applicable, and develop a targeted safety campaign. This could include asking workers to think about their reasons for staying safe each day and having them sign banners to affirm their commitment.

7. Search out ways to lower incident reports and workers’ comp and insurance costs.

Prevention begins with education. You’re probably already familiar with the common causes of workers’ compensation claims in your industry, but the data may change from one year to the next. Subscribe to safety-related publications, such as the National Safety Council and news releases from OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which maintain information about workplace fatalities and injuries.

While it’s important to be aware of national trends, you also need to keep a close eye on your company’s data. Once you have it in a format that’s easily searchable, focus on using it to prevent injuries and reduce workers’ compensation costs. Review recent claims to determine what’s driving them. Use these drivers to prioritize spending your limited funds. If you’ve had several slips in a particular area of the site, for instance, consider whether you need nonskid matting.

Once you’ve identified these fixes, make them resonate among your employees. Establish a safety committee that includes representatives from all levels of the company. This group should meet periodically to review trends and areas in need of improvement. Train representatives to make periodic field observations, and coach employees when appropriate. Have them look for proper use of personal protective equipment, safe behaviors, and potential jobsite hazards, such as unsecured electrical cords and slick surfaces. Examine these findings, along with any near misses. Remind your employees that reporting near misses is a requirement that’s just as important as reporting incidents.

8. Find a solution that saves money.

Look for a comprehensive approach that cuts costs without compromising quality. This should address every aspect of worker safety, from determining fitness for duty and ensuring employees are properly qualified for each task to continued training throughout their career.

Use your safety database to produce a monthly report for these programs that includes how many employees participated and the total cost. You should also maintain monthly incident reports so you can keep track of how specific programs have reduced incidents. It all translates into proof you’re saving the company money.

9. Don’t allow yourself or your team to become “stuck” in a corporate infrastructure mindset.

Changing a company culture requires a creative approach. Senior management officials may caution you against trying something that hasn’t been done before, but when it comes to safety, you’re the expert.

Don’t be afraid to challenge long-standing philosophies. It’s your job to educate managers on the most common safety violations, new regulations, and technology that can help your company move beyond mere compliance. Emphasize your desire to improve the overall safety culture and how your proposals align with that goal. Use data to back up your assertions. Provide reassurance that you’ve explored all aspects of how your proposals will impact the company. Let them know you’ve addressed the IT department’s questions about security and have the support of your workers in implementing any changes.

As a safety manager, you need to be the voice lobbying for continuous improvement. The National Safety Council recommends framing this discussion with three simple questions:

  1. Where is your company now compared with where you want it to be? In addition to reviewing your company’s safety data, consider surveying your employees on their perceptions of safety in the workplace to identify shortfalls. This will give you a baseline of the safety culture as workers see it now rather than what your managers think it is.
  2. How do you move forward? Set specific goals for your company, and determine what smaller steps you need to take to accomplish them. Do you need additional training? Better communication with workers? Equipment upgrades?
  3. How do you manage your improvement and measure your progress? With every step, use analytical data to determine whether you’re moving forward.

An integrated safety software system can help you identify improvements your company needs; manage all your documents, training, and programs; and help you keep track of how effective they are over time. The next time an OSHA inspector or your vice president asks what you’re doing to prevent injuries and boost your bottom line, you’ll be able to show them exactly what you’ve implemented and how well it’s working. EHS Hero® is one such system that’s easy to use and affordable for any size business. It’s designed to handle the administrative side of safety so you can focus on your workers.

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