Safety Hits Home

July 13, 2006
With twice as many workers getting hurt in off-the-job incidents than at work, safety managers are beginning to see home safety as the final frontier for worker protection.

Meet Rover. He is an affable hound and a persistent home safety champion. His light-bulb nose goes "code red" when he sniffs out danger, while his trusty sidekick, Freddie Flashlight, helps Rover illuminate some of the hazards families face while at home.

No, this isn't a new Saturday morning cartoon. Rover and Freddie Flashlight are characters invented by the Home Safety Council to help teach young children how to make important safety decisions when confronting dangers at home. In the video, Rover instructs the kids to say "Code Red Rover, Grownup Come Over!" whenever they come across a safety hazard and need an adult to correct the situation.

Rover, also a Home Safety Council mascot, is used as a resource by companies nationwide as a means of getting their employees and employees' families involved in learning about home safety hazards. He is one of the many tools associations such as the Home Safety Council and the National Safety Council (NSC) use to assist employers in teaching workers the importance of off-the-job safety. The reason why these two councils are placing so much emphasis on the issue is because statistics indicate that today's workers are safer on the job than they are at home or in their communities.

Home versus Work Injuries

According to statistics gathered by NSC, twice as many workers a total of 6.8 million were seriously injured while off the job as were injured while working. And of the 49,000 injury-related deaths in 2004 involving workers, roughly 90 percent occurred while employees were off the job.

Such numbers prompted NSC to hold the nation's first Off-the-Job Safety Symposium in February 2006. Several companies that have taken the initiative to implement off-the-job safety and wellness programs were profiled at the symposium.

Deborah Stein, one of the organizers of the symposium and lead champion of the off-the job safety initiative at NSC, says she wishes more companies would place the same importance on safety in the home as they do on work safety.

"So much has been done to reduce injuries and deaths at work. Now, we must focus on doing the same off the job," she explains.

There are various reasons why the importance of an off-the-job safety program hasn't hit home with many employers, one being that many believe they lack the resources to start one. Stein, however, reassures employers that lack of resources should not be a hindrance. "Sometimes it can be as easy and simple as putting up a flyer or getting goggles at work and [educating employees] when to wear them at home," she says.

The Bottom Line

One benefit companies consider when introducing an off-the-job safety program is the return-on-investment (ROI) it could bring, Stein says. According to statistics from the National Safety Council, in 2004, $193.6 billion was spent on off-the-job injuries compared to $142.2 million spent for workplace injuries. In addition, off-the-job injuries accounted for a loss of 165 million production days, while on-the-job injuries resulted in 80 million lost workdays.

"Employers should develop an off-the-job safety program not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it affects their bottom line," Stein explains. "From a ROI perspective, taking an interest in what happens outside of work and guiding people to safer practices will ultimately reduce their insurance costs."

Although momentum has been slow as the home safety concept is a new one, businesses have been increasingly recognizing the value of keeping their employees safe at all times. A recent National Safety Council survey of 1,300 companies that have implemented such programs shows that 58 percent reported reductions in injuries occurring outside of work.

One such company is Johnson & Johnson, which also presented its best practices approach at the symposium. Marley Costa, Johnson & Johnson's safety and industrial hygiene manager, says that employee safety, whether it is inside or outside of the workplace, is a basic component of the company's Credo.

"In our Credo, we have four main responsibilities, one of them being our employees," says Costa. "But this responsibility is extended to [employees'] families as well."

Three years ago, Johnson & Johnson corporate offices and worldwide affiliate sites launched a health and safety campaign called "Safe Decisions for Life," which urges employees to apply safety practices equally at work and at home. The first of several segments of the campaign utilized print and video materials, discussion sessions, presentations and even free giveaways to emphasize the importance of hand safety. Costa says some sites even went as far as having "Hand Days," inviting employees' families to participate in finger painting, reflexology and even a "Little Fingers" children's art contest to create a sense of community when spreading the safety message.

The company subsequently has produced more annual campaigns that focused on fall prevention and driver safety. Although Johnson & Johnson has begun to track numbers to prove the campaign's effectiveness, the figures are not significant statistically as the campaign is a new one, Costa said. Previous to the launch of the hand safety campaign, hand-related injuries made up 21 percent of the company's total lost workday and serious injury cases in 2003. After the campaign, such incidents decreased to 12 percent.

Unknown Hazards

Educating employers and workers about the importance of home safety is especially important as many don't realize some of the hazards that exist in the comfort of their own homes, explains Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.

"Every year, on average, there are almost 20,000 people who die in and around their home as a result of unintentional, preventable injuries," she says. "If people were more aware of the risks, they would be a lot more careful."

The Home Safety Council, one of the pioneers in home safety advocacy, sponsored a study, "The State of Home Safety in America," that was conducted by the University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention Research Center. The study revealed that falls were the top cause of home injury-related deaths, followed by poisoning, fires and burns, choking and strangulation and drowning.

"The high risk of taking a fall and suffering a serious injury often surprises people," Appy says. "As a result, common slipping and tripping hazards that are easy to fix are too frequently overlooked in American households. Our research shows a clear need for families to take action in their homes now to reduce this severe danger."

Since the Home Safety Council was the first association to focus solely on home safety, Appy says she isn't surprised that the notion hasn't caught on especially with companies. She says she strives to change that by continuously reaching out to companies through materials such as a monthly e-newsletter, which dishes out home safety tips; Safety Huddles, which are quick safety reminders promoting off-the-job safety (each one includes a safety assignment that employees can take home and share with their families); as well as the Code Red Rover video.

In addition, the Home Safety Council each year recognizes one corporation with the Salute to Home Safety Excellence Award in recognition of the company's efforts to promote off-the-job safety in the workplace. This year's winner, USG Corp., was lauded for its commitment to home safety through a fun and interactive program a characteristic of every year's award recipient, Appy says. Beside having monthly safety meetings and addressing key home safety topics, USG, like Johnson & Johnson, incorporates safety themes into its Kids at Work Day activities, so that children are encouraged to practice home safety techniques and enable their parents to do the same.

USG safety manager Bob Harry says it's been part of the company's history to make safety a priority, and it makes sense to extend the message outside the company's gates.

"Safety cannot be an 8-hour-a-day job. It should be 24-7," he says.

PPE in Stores

Founded by Lowe's in 1993, the Home Safety Council branched off to become its own independent non-profit organization in 1996. Lowe's spokesperson Chris Ahearn, however, wants to make it clear that the company remains committed to home safety.

One of the marketing strategies Lowe's implemented to promote home safety awareness is placing personal protective equipment (PPE) alongside tools, such as displaying earplugs and earmuffs next to chainsaws. In addition, Lowe's sells certain PPE such as eye protection in fashion-friendly styles to promote use.

"We want to keep safety in mind for consumers as they are shopping and make [it easy for] them to be safe, rather than something they have to think long and hard about," says Ahearn. "We want customers to make safe purchasing decisions, not only for the products and tools they are going to use, but also the accompanying items that will help them stay safe when they use those tools."

Appy says having "engineered solutions" such as smoke alarms, safety gates and PPE can definitely bring enhanced safety to the home. But companies should first bring the attention of home safety to its employees.

"Employees are any organization's most vital asset, " she says. "You should protect them and their families."

Sidebar: 5 Tips for Creating a Successful Off-the-Job Safety Program

According to Home Safety Council President Meri-K Appy, many companies believe starting up an off-the-job safety program requires a lot of time and extra resources. But she assures employers this is not the case.

"For companies that already have workplace safety programs in place, all that needs to be done is to integrate the home safety aspect into the communications vehicle that is already in place," she says. "For smaller companies, putting up a flyer or just spending an extra 5 minutes talking about what happens when going home can be just as effective."

Appy offers these five tips that could make any off-the-job safety program a raging success:

1. Make sure everybody sees that the top person of the organization cares about home safety. For instance, a CEO who shows each worker where the fire exits are at an off-site meeting also is showing them the importance of staying safe off the job.

2. Make safety a presence in the company. Putting up posters and signs pin-pointing the importance of home safety will make the message visual.

3. Make it fun! Getting families of workers involved and providing incentives for employees to take safety home with them will make them more willing to follow safety rules when off the job.

4. Create materials for adults whose reading levels are at or lower than the basic reading level. According to a National Assessment of Adult Literacy study, more than 90 million adults are reading at or below basic level. When creating materials for employees, include illustrations and boil down safety messages to the basic point.

5. Evaluate and share your successes with other companies. Sharing best practices will not only help you pass the home safety message along, but also will allow you to learn what other companies have accomplished with their home safety programs.

Sidebar: Simple Strategies for a Safer Home

Sharing these 10 tips offered by the Home Safety Council will let workers know what they need to do to stay safe.

Have smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test each smoke alarm every month.

  • Have a fire escape plan for your family that shows two ways out of every room and a place to meet outside. Practice your plan two times a year with your family.
  • Always stay in the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove.
  • Have lots of light near all stairways, paths and walkways.
  • Have grab bars in bathtubs and showers. Use a non-slip mat or safety strips inside bathtubs and showers.
  • Put emergency numbers, including the Poison Control Hotline number ([800] 222-1222), next to every phone in your home.
  • Have child-safety locks on all cabinets used to store dangerous items.
  • Set your water heater at 120 degrees F or less.
  • Have four-sided fencing with self-locking and self-closing gates.
  • If you have a pool, install fencing that completely isolates the pool from the home and is at least 5 feet high.
  • Watch children who are playing in or near water such as pools, ponds, bathtubs and buckets.

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