Back in 2002, when EHS Today (then named Occupational Hazards) initiated the first National Safety Survey, we didn't ask a single question about the value of safety versus production. Perhaps that's because, 15 years ago, safety still was viewed by many as a "program," not a process or as part of the business. Safety was viewed as necessary, but didn't come close to being perceived as an aspect of the business that contributed to leadership in an industry.
Over the years, that attitude has changed. Often, companies that are leaders in their industries also are viewed as leaders in safety and environmental performance. This year, for example, we asked, "Does your organization prioritize safety over production and/or other business demands?" I can't compare this year's answers to that question with those on the first safety survey in 2002 because we didn't ask that question.
This year, nearly 70 percent of respondents said that their company does prioritize safety over production and other business values. Over 80 percent said that top management provides active and visible support for occupational safety and health; again, another question that was not asked in earlier versions of the National Safety Survey. If it had been asked, I think the numbers might have been reversed, with fewer than 20 percent of respondents saying top management actively supported safety efforts.
What we did learn this year, when we asked, "If resources were not an issue, what would be at the top of your wish list in regards to ensuring employee safety?" is that EHS professionals now are turning to that mid-level of management – supervisors and managers – as the final frontier needed to push safety measures forward. Here is a sample of responses:
- "I do not believe throwing money will fix the issues. I believe that if all supervisors/managers truly walked the talk there would be a vast improvement."
- "More one-on-one engagement with middle management. While they want everyone working safely, they struggle to visibly demonstrate it to staff."
- Upgrading plant & equipment to engineer out hazards. Targeted coaching of business leaders, managers and supervisors on how to set the right example."
- "Send the production supervisors and plant manager to an OSHA 30-hour course."
- "Leadership training for foremen/supervisors."
- Supervisors and managers would encourage employees to utilize their stop work authority (and mean it!)."
What surprised me most about the answers to that question, though, was the overwhelming number of respondents (more than 50 percent) who said they would ask for more training: More training and professional development for themselves, as well as more and better targeted training for employees and supervisors, more hands-on training and more training for contractors. Many responded simply: "Training," and in more than one case: "Training, training, training!"
Said one such respondent: "Training, Training, Training. There is never enough and it is not administered in a fashion that is suitable for all. Also more employee involvement with the workings and functions of the EHS personnel and get a behind-the-scenes look. Getting everybody to work together as a unit."
Several respondents also noted they have a multi-cultural workforce and in an ideal world, would offer training in a number of languages.
One question we've never asked before – because it didn't exist – is the impact that OSHA's new public database will have on safety initiatives. Most respondents (78 percent) said it will have no impact on their safety initiatives.
The EHS professionals who indicated it would have an impact were divided as to whether that impact would be positive or negative. Nearly half indicated they worried that some workers – perhaps at the subtle urging of employers – would underreport injuries.
They also complained that it focused on a lagging indicator, with one respondent
calling it "basically a body count."
Others viewed it in a positive light, saying companies would be forced to be more transparent – with employees, customers, their industry and contractors – about injuries and illnesses that occur. Some felt they could leverage the threat of increased public scrutiny to increase corporate focus on safety, resulting in more resources.
"If everyone can see what we are doing wrong, including our customers or potential customers, there will be a big emphasis on getting it fixed," one respondent noted.
For full results from the National Safety Survey, visit http://www.ehstoday.com/2016NSS.