A few short decades ago, safety planning was not considered a priority for many corporations. Instead, most incidents and emergencies were handled as they occurred, as effectively as possible given the limited technology resources available at the time.
Today, workplace health and safety departments have evolved into something else entirely. Safety planning has become a must-have activity for corporation in order to protect organizations and their employees.
To fully understand the importance of corporate safety planning – and to glimpse at how much it has changed our modern work environment – you only need to take a quick look at how far it’s come. Here is what worked, and what didn’t work.
The Origins of Corporate Safety Planning
Prior to the 1970s, corporate safety programs didn’t exist as they do today. Some employers took it upon themselves to establish policies and procedures to prevent workplace accidents and protect employees; others simply responded to incidents as they occurred.
In the United States in the early 1970s, an average of 38 workers died every day, and 10 percent experienced a work-related injury or illness each year. Due to the rising number of incidents, the idea of occupational safety and health began gaining momentum and OSHA was established in 1971 to create and enforce standards that would improve workplace safety.
In other countries, occupational safety and health became a priority after two serious incidents. First, the Seveso Disaster of 1976 occurred in which an explosion at a chemical plant in Italy released a cloud of dioxin. Thousands of animals died immediately, and many local residents experienced health problems for decades. Then, in 1984, more than half a million people in Bhopal, India, were exposed to toxic gas from a chemical processing plant with poorly maintained pipes. Within a month, 80,000 people died.
Following these catastrophes, the world began focusing on environmental health and safety more than ever before. The chemical industry led the charge, establishing a set of fundamentals to help ensure product and plant safety, environmental protection and occupational health.
Meanwhile, OSHA established regulations for a growing list of industries that would help protect workers and establish a framework for corporate safety planning. Throughout the 1990s, general concepts for environmental health and safety fully took hold, both in the United States and throughout many other countries.
What Worked, What Didn’t
This global focus on environmental health and safety gradually improved workplace conditions in most nations. In the U.S., workplace fatalities decreased by about 80 percent between 1913 and 2013, even though the workforce had more than doubled.
However, efforts to improve environmental health and safety often have been limited. The majority of organizations may have adopted safety planning into their standard operations, but it still can be extremely challenging to optimize workplace safety communication. For example, how does a corporate safety director best communicate with his or her team, both during normal operations and in an emergency? How are regulations, instructions, safety procedures and best practices distributed to employees? Over time, how are they updated and enforced? When an accident occurs, how should workers help someone who is injured?
Across the globe, there still is a lot of progress to be made to make the workplace safer. In the United States, thousands of people still die every year in the workplace.
Technology Improves Safety
Communication is vital for effective workplace health and safety. Today, technology allows corporations to create more actionable safety plans than ever before.
Most corporate employees now have smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices – all with powerful apps and features – that can be used as powerful components of safety planning. Employees with mobile devices easily can call for help if an accident occurs, even if they are out in the field. In addition, they can be contacted during an emergency, whether through a call tree, via text messages or using email.
Corporations with the most effective safety plans aim to stay slightly ahead of technology advancements to continually improve incident management and response. Consumer technology always leads the business world; by leveraging these advanced communications devices, organizations have an opportunity to optimize their corporate safety planning.
Today, mobile apps are helping to improve communication even more. Corporate safety apps enable organizations to digitize their safety plans, providing all users with the most recent safety plan information, check lists, forms, URL links and maps, automatic alerts and more. This critical, at-your-fingertips information is imperative for employees to have when responding to incidents both big and small.
Mobile devices, and specifically emergency apps, offer two-way communication, GPS tracking and audience segmentation, which provide extra flexibility during various types of emergencies. They even work without cell service or access to your local intranet or the Internet. This ensures that employees readily can communicate in any situation, even when websites are unavailable and emergency notifications aren’t working. Safety plans can be updated at any time, with new contact information, protocols or forms, so that employees have the most accurate emergency phone numbers, step-by-step instructions and compliance procedures.
Corporate safety planning has come a long way over the last several decades. Companies have a greater opportunity and responsibility than ever before to improve safety standards and training, accurately report incidents, and create new processes to avoid future safety incidents, simply by leveraging the technology that every employee has in his or her pocket.
Now, with actionable safety plans and technology to support those initiatives, occupational health and safety managers and safety personnel within organizations are better equipped to reduce any adverse effects the company’s processes and services potentially can have on the environment and workers. With the right tools in hand, organizations also can remain compliant with health, safety and environmental regulations and can better mitigate any workplace accidents, ensuring the health and safety of their employees.
About the Author: Christopher Britton is the chief operating officer for RockDove Solutions, the developer of the In Case of Crisis solution. Britton oversees the revenue growth, client success and operations of the business.