Off-the-Job Safety: The Final Frontier

Off-the-Job Safety: The Final Frontier

Off-the-job safety is considered by some safety professionals to be the final frontier when it comes to affecting change in a worker’s safety beliefs and behavior. Effectively reaching employees away from work with safety may be the missing element that can take your company’s safety culture to the next level.

On the face of it, off-the-job safety simply is getting employees to expand their on-the-job safety mindedness everywhere else. This is easier said than done. Convincing workers to embrace this concept can be a challenging task and one that may bring a bit of resistance, but it is well worth the effort.

Acceptance by the work force of an off-the-job safety program chiefly is determined by its look and feel and whether participation is required or voluntary. Certain core questions must be answered by the employer en-route to developing and delivering an off-the-job program:

Are employees’ off-the-job tendencies an indication of their on-the-job risk tolerance? When it comes to activities away from work, does the employer have the responsibility or the right to get involved with employees’ actions? For instance, should a company monitor for and take action against unsafe off-the-job behavior such as driving personal vehicles without using seatbelts? Is the purpose of an off-the-job safety program solely based on preserving dollars and cents, or is it to improve the quality of life of the worker?

A question that does not have to be asked is whether helping workers develop a full-time safety consciousness is a good thing. The answer every time is that the employees and the employer both win. The devil is in the details and in this case, success lies in the manner in which employees come to realize the value of practicing off-the-job safety.

The Return on Investment (ROI)

With nearly 55,000 annual accidental deaths occurring off the job versus 5,000 on-the-job deaths, you are 10 times more likely to die away from work than at work. Employers lost over $250 billion dollars in 2008 from employees sustaining injuries off the job due to falls, car accidents, power tool accidents, trench collapses, electric shock and other perils (National Safety Council, “Injury Facts,” 2010). Direct costs easily can be determined using measurable items such as lost workdays, the need to hire temporary labor or train a permanent replacement. Assessing the indirect costs, such as the loss of productivity due to mental anguish or depression and lower work force morale, are more difficult to quantify and add to the dollars lost.

The value of off-the-job safety has been realized by some employers for many years. “We challenge our employees every year to develop and sign a ‘personal action safety plan,’ a commitment to stay safe off-the-job,” says Doug Pontsler, vice president, environmental health and safety for Owens Corning, a leading global producer of residential and commercial building materials. “We have high expectations that our employees will incorporate safety in all that they do.”

In nearly all cases, a safer employee is a more content and productive employee. But an off-the-job safety program is more than just a productivity tool. It should be equated to a company-sponsored wellness program that is intended to maintain the physical and mental health of the worker.

DuPont employs more than 60,000 workers worldwide. The roots of their off-the-job safety activities go back to the 1920s, with a formal program starting in the 1950s.

“Off-the-job safety is simply an extension of two DuPont core values – safety and health and respect for people,” says Leo Hamilton, global director of safety, health and environment at DuPont. “Our leaders support it because it is the right thing to do.”

Hamilton says it is clear to corporate leadership at DuPont that off-the-job injuries can have an impact in the workplace. The company encourages employees to report personal injuries to the medical staff so the potential for work activities aggravating their personal medical conditions is minimized.

“We ask all of our employees to be ‘safety interdependent’ and take the DuPont safety mindset home to their families and communities,” Hamilton adds. “A commitment to off-the-job safety and health goes hand-in-hand with safety on the job.”

Selling Off-the-Job Safety

Some employers require good off-the-job safety behavior as a condition of employment. One of the ways they do this is by monitoring for infractions such as speeding tickets, DUIs and other public record actions. Rather than mandating off-the-job safety behavior, most employers find the greatest success through a voluntary program that is effective at proving to the employee the value of practicing safety away from the job.

How does the transition from the have-to-do safety attitude (at work) to the want-to-do safety attitude (at home) take place? Like any other safety initiative delivered by a company, success lies in the way it is sold to the employee. If employees understands the benefits and value it brings to them, acceptance and participation more easily is achieved. In this case, the buy-in comes when the employee realizes that the real winners are his or her family and friends.

As many safety professionals can testify, changing human behavior is a tough task. Safety behavior at its core is a collection of an individual’s values: risk tolerance, willingness to learn and change, etc. Unfortunately, in many cases, the individual must experience an injury before the safety lesson truly is learned.

Take, for instance, a leading question I ask my construction students during an OSHA training class: “How many of you wear your personal fall protection equipment while working on the job?” Nearly every hand in the classroom goes up (as hoped). Then I ask “How many of you climb into your deer stand during hunting season without any type of fall protection?” Nearly every hand goes up again. What is the missing link? (By the way, the two leading causes of injury for deer hunters are falls and cold exposure.)

With some workers it is like a switch: “I’m off the job and now nobody can tell me what to do … and the hazards of the workplace don’t exist at home.” With a lack of reprimand for unsafe behavior at home, employees can be tough to win over in a voluntary off-the-job program. Selling off-the-job safety should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint.

Getting Started

How do we make inroads with employees to get them to understand the benefits of off-the-job safety? It all starts with caring. Underneath all those policies, procedures, inspections and training sessions, safety is simply caring for each other.

To create an effective safety culture is to create a place of employment where the employer recognizes each employee as a person. The employees need to really believe that the employer cares about their well-being by demonstrating an understanding that what happens to the employee’s family and friends affects the employee and vice versa. The employee must believe that the employer views them as human capital – an investment – rather than just another line worker, laborer or carpenter.

Once the foundation of this caring environment is established, the message of off-the-job safety is taken more seriously. “An unconditional commitment to safety for others … about their lives … is the message we want to send to our employees,” says Pontsler.

A good launch pad for a company-wide safety program is the organization’s safety committee. Safety committees are comprised of representatives from all operational areas of the company including management. Here, the decisions can be made as to the depth and breadth of the program including voluntary or “expected” participation. Outside facilitation or consulting services may be needed to determine whether an organization’s base culture will support an off-the-job program.

DuPont utilizes employee perception surveys with questions such as, “To what extent is off-the-job safety a focus in your workplace safety program?” Surveys may assist in understanding the work force’s views on safety away from work and, once implemented, for checking its ongoing value.

Generally speaking, employees respond better to subtle, rather than drastic, change to anything, including safety initiatives. Therefore, a launch, roll out or any other sudden start of a program, particularly one that may appear a bit intrusive, probably is not a good idea.

Rather, home safety information can be first introduced in a harmless, almost subliminal way. The message that off-the-job safety should be of value to the employee can be woven into paycheck stuffers, newsletter articles, booklets, break room posters and company Web site content. Tie information into local, state or national campaigns such as national fire prevention week or severe weather awareness week to enhance the effect.

Family Involvement

Participation by family members into off-the-job safety brings the concept of safety wholly into the home of the employee. Integrating the employee’s workplace safety behavior with their home life is the critical step in developing the full-time safety mindset. Ideas for accomplishing this include:

➤ Have employees’ children draw pictures of safety messages (bike helmet use, don’t play with matches, etc.) that will be assembled for a company calendar.

➤ Encourage employees to take the message of off-the-job safety into their child’s school. Elementary schools always are looking for volunteers and presentation ideas.

➤ Make sure that the message of off-the-job safety appears at company-wide gatherings, picnics, etc. Many Owens Corning facilities provide a safety fair where off-the-job safety is a focus. Keeping the message present at most functions tells the work force that the company believes in it and is committed to the cause.

➤ Provide employee with resources to help them effectively practice safety off the job. Resources can include books, pamphlets and links to other organizations that support home safety, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Fire Prevention Association, Safe Kids USA and many others.

The Challenges

“Our biggest challenge is keeping it fresh, relevant, new,” says Pontsler.

Personal stories of success and failure make a lasting impact. Peer-to-peer messages often make the biggest impact towards behavior change.

Encourage employees to describe in a newsletter article or a group presentation a specific example where they failed to take safety precautions off the job and had to pay the consequences. These personal messages are reminders that validate an away-from-work safety program. DuPont has termed this type of messaging “caring through sharing.” A video that shows the power of peer-to-peer messaging (in children) can be found at VitalSmarts at http://www.crucialskills.com/2009/09/all-washed-up.

“No one is beating the drum for off-the-job safety,” says Fred Rine, CEO of FDR Safety, a safety consulting firm. “The key is to motivate people to be safe regardless of where they are. By nature, we are risk takers and therefore we need to change our attitude (what we think) and our behavior (what we do).

“There aren’t nearly enough companies promoting off-the-job safety. They are missing the mark,” he adds.

The path to developing a full-time safety mindset can be a long one but well worth it for both the employer and employee. Off-the-job safety programs heighten the workers awareness of the value safety brings to the quality of life. No one wishes a disabling injury upon another whether it happens on the job or away from the job. An effective off-the-job program may be the final frontier of safety programs that can make a significant impact on worker safety.

Dan Hannan, CSP, has been a safety professional for 23 years and is a senior loss control professional for Willis of Minnesota. Hannan has authored the book Preventing Home Accidents, a proactive homeowner resource that supports off-the-job safety programs. He can be reached at http://www.danshomesafety.com.

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