Posted by Heidi Schwartz
While the number of workplace accident rates is on the decline in the U.S., a number of high-profile and serious accidents in recent years has led to new safety processes. To create a healthier and safer workplace, UL, a global safety science group, believes that organizations must establish a culture in which employees actively identify indicators of unsafe conditions—both through formal and informal processes—before a crisis hits. In doing so, organizations can learn from safety related failures or events that point to the potential for major negative outcomes, and implement necessary changes.
“The evolution of safety in the U.S. has a long and storied past with memorable tragic and catastrophic events. Each one provides a unique perspective for how we can prevent future events, if we take the time to learn from them,” said Todd Hohn, UL’s global workplace health and safety director. “However, we also believe learning happens through ongoing, day-to-day employee engagement in safety, not just when a crisis occurs.”
Earlier this year, UL hosted a workplace health and safety roundtable in which a number of participants representing a cross-section of senior business executives, insurance and risk management professionals, occupational medicine physicians, university faculty members, research, and other subject matter experts came together to discuss pressing issues in creating a workplace health and safety culture today. Some of the discussions included:
- How process change can save money and improve performance
- The role of top management in creating a culture of safety
- Increasing workplace productivity, along with the bottom line, by addressing the health risks employees bring into the workplace
- Creating an organizational structure that enables a culture of health and safety
Traditionally, companies have kept their health and safety functions separate, hindering collaboration. UL believes it is crucial for organizations to integrate their health and safety functions and participants spent extensive time discussing organizational structures, alignment, and outcomes to improve performance.
When organizations succeed in creating safer workplaces, it directly contributes to a better financial performance. According to the National Safety Council, a workplace injury takes place every six seconds. J. Paul Leigh, professor of Health Economics at the School of Medicine and Department of Public Health Sciences with the University of California, Davis, estimates that occupational illnesses and injuries cost the American economy $250 billion each year due to medical expenses and lost productivity.
In fall 2014, UL will issue a free white book with insights from the roundtable and strategies for driving a culture of health, safety and learning. Additional resources are currently available through UL’s Workplace Health & Safety Journal.
“This was the first roundtable, that I know of, in which senior executives from business, and experts in health, safety, risk management, insurance, government and academia have come together to take a holistic approach to health and safety and continuous learning,” added Hohn. “Collectively we came to the conclusion that business health relies on employee health and safety.”