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Workplace Safety: Shifting from Recordable to Preventable

June 17, 2016
What if, instead of analyzing an injury after it happened, you could see a trend towards imminent injury or illness and prevent it?

OSHA’s recent rule to modernize injury data collection is a great step towards helping businesses become more proactive in reducing workplace illness and injury. It opens up the data to public scrutiny, and will push some organizations into doing better because of it.

But it’s not enough. We all know the best way to improve safety is to have a knowledgeable workforce who can operate equipment safely, work with hazardous materials properly and knows what to do if something happens on the job. Most companies just record incidents and carry out safety training, but don’t really know why safety incidents happen, or how to decrease the numbers. What’s missing is the link between whether employees really know what they should do, and whether they can translate their knowledge into job actions that improve safety.

What if, instead of analyzing an injury after it happened, you could see a trend towards imminent injury or illness and prevent it? What if you could:

  • Define what employees need to know, and what employees need to do to create a much safer workplace.
  • Continuously evaluate what employees know and observe and document what actions they take on the job (their “behaviors”), which influence their performance.
  • Constantly compare current knowledge and behaviors against targets at an individual, group, or regional level, to uncover trends that point towards imminent issues.
  • Understand which employees need to improve their behaviors to achieve safety targets, and whether they also need more knowledge to accomplish that.
  • Quickly and easily modify training programs to ensure employees get the right information for safety.

If you had this kind of information at your fingertips, you could become proactive at preventing workplace injury and illness, instead of simply reporting it after the fact.

A Proactive Approach to Learning and Performance

Today’s learning technologies have come a long way from the traditional classroom training or even Learning Management Systems (LMS). They give you the ability to track learning results as well as employee behavior on the job. They also allow you to compare knowledge and behavior against targets you’ve set that, when achieved, will reduce safety issues.

With metrics like these, you can identify where workers need to modify their behaviors, and whether that can be done through additional training or if a combination of training and coaching is required.

You also can scale this data to get a better picture at a group, regional or even organizational level. And when you link these knowledge and behavior metrics with safety incident data, you have everything you need to analyze why incidents happen, uncover new trends and proactively prevent future incidents.

Walmart and Bloomingdale’s are two organizations that recognized that improving employee knowledge would help them reduce safety incidents. To do that, they implemented a learning solution that identifies what employees know or don’t know about safe work practices, highlights gaps between training and what employees do on the job and then provides additional training to fill those gaps. Using data from their learning solution, they also proactively can identify safety risks and respond quickly before injuries occur, significantly reducing OSHA recordables.

Improved Knowledge = Reduce Risk

With one of the largest distribution networks and private trucking fleets in the world, Walmart Logistics wanted to create a safety culture that would help decrease risk and reduce accidents and injuries. Walmart knew that even a 5 precent decrease in OSHA recordables would save the company millions of dollars each year. The company also knew that to create a pervasive safety culture, it needed to instill job safety as a habit, and ensure that employees believed in the value of job safety. 

Although Bloomingdale’s already had a low rate of safety incidents, management wanted to improve employee safety even more. They knew an unmistakable link existed between effective safety training and the likelihood that employees will follow proper procedures, which would ultimately reduce injury rates. But standard approaches weren’t cutting it; classroom training, LMS technology, awareness posters and even pre-shift rallies were all getting stale. 

Both companies turned to a daily “gamified” microlearning solution (short bursts of training delivered every shift in a game interface) to help employees learn about safe work practices and remember them on the job. With this continuous learning approach, safety information always is top of mind, and encourages conversation among employees. Information is delivered as short Q&A sessions inside a quick game, usually at the start of a shift. Employees have incentives to participate, such as leaderboards and points they can accumulate for prizes. This approach makes learning a fun experience for all employees, and engages them in the success of their own learning.

By observing on-the-job behaviors and inputting that data into their learning systems, both Walmart and Bloomingdales have been able to determine how much of what their employees learn is applied properly at work. And by correlating knowledge levels with job performance, they can identify areas where additional knowledge is needed to improve performance, helping to reduce or eliminate safety incidents.

Reduced Recordables/Improved Prevention

Walmart and Bloomingdale’s recognized that the most important factor in decreasing safety incidents is the employees themselves. What employees know impacts what they do on the job, and how they do it. A more aware, knowledgeable workforce has the tools to avoid injury and illness, as well as the skill to respond quickly and limit damage when something does happen.

With improved employee knowledge levels and daily focus on safety issues, both Walmart and Bloomingdale’s have realized significant improvements in workplace safety. Bloomingdale’s has reduced safety claims by 41 percent, helping the company save $2.2 million in one year alone. At Walmart, metrics like lost time injuries have been reduced by more than 50 percent and incident rates and DART rates [days away from work, job restrictions and/or job transfers] are well below industry average. And with employees enjoying training and talking about safety, the company has been able to create a culture that keeps workplace safety front and center.

With OSHA’s new reporting requirements creating greater transparency regarding workplace injury and illness, it’s important to ensure your safety record is above reproach. The key to this is a workforce that has the knowledge, skills and commitment to reduce incidents and maintain safe work practices.

About the Author: Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify Inc., developer of the world's first employee knowledge platform that combines a microlearning platform with knowledge-on-demand capabilities to improve employee and organizational performance. She is a much sought after speaker, presenting at high profile events such as the Fortune Tech conference in Aspen, HR Summit 2012 Impact99 conferences in both Vancouver and Toronto and TedxWomen in Waterloo. Prior to Axonify, Leaman was the CEO of PostRank Inc., a social engagement analytics company that she sold to Google in June 2011. Leaman also was the CEO of RSS Solutions Inc. and Fakespace, two companies she successfully sold to strategic acquirers. 

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