November 8, 2005
An effective safety awareness program keeps safety uppermost in employees' minds, reduces accidents, and has a positive impact on the bottom line. This article describes one company's program that's both effective and fun. It might be just what you need to help improve your company's safety record and bottom line
What is most important in your business? Is profitability the driving factor? Delivery? Quality? Safety?
Success in each of these fundamental areas is critical to ongoing business success. Just as the spinning dish juggler who performed on the Ed Sullivan Show was deemed successful only if he kept all of the dishes spinning, a business is successful only if all areas are sound. If one area crashes to the floor, it often takes others with it.
Of these fundamental areas, safety often is the most difficult to monitor, usually because it doesn't scream for attention like the other areas.
Rarely a day goes by when a company isn't considering how to trim costs and maximize profits. After all, profit puts bread on the table and keeps an operation moving and, it is hoped, thriving. Every day businesses are consumed with how to wring the most out of available resources.
Focus on delivery is constant. Commitments are based on when customers need products. If they aren't delivered on time, both the manufacturer's and the customer's businesses suffer. Inattention to delivery simply is unacceptable.
Attention to quality is critical. Companies must adhere to quality standards that meet or exceed customers' expectations. Poor quality can translate quickly to lost profitability in the form of do-it-againcosts, or worse yet, lost business. Customers, both internal and external, consistently monitor and sound the alarm when quality is not what it should be.
But what about safety? Unless someone is injured, this fundamental area rarely receives the attention either internal or external it deserves. While unsafe acts often can lead to poor bottom-line performance, the connection typically is made only when a lost-time accident occurs. And by that time the dish has already crashed to the floor.
The challenge, therefore, is to create a safety awareness program, an urgency for safety, that keeps the plate spinning smoothly and keeps workers and plants accident-free.
Aeroglide Corp.'s employee-run safety committee spends time each month considering potential safety awareness programs. In fact, it has a standing safety awareness subcommittee with the sole purpose of brainstorming and recognizing new and different ways to keep safety in the foreground for every employee. This is an ongoing task, because the company recognizes that each idea has a limited life span and needs to be changed on a regular basis to keep programs from becoming routine.
Last year Aeroglide encountered a similar small manufacturing company that had an amazing safety record. The company had gone nearly five years without a lost-time accident, thanks in part to a program called Safety Bingo. Seeing their outstanding results, Aeroglide decided to implement the program too.
This is how Safety Bingo works. Each employee is given a "bingo card," and a small amount of money is set aside as the "pot." Each day thereafter a number is pulled from the bowl, and additional money is put into the pot. Eventually someone wins and collects the money in the pot. (At Aeroglide, the winner has to fill the entire sheet to bingo.)
What does this game have to do with safety? First, an accident occurs, lost-time or not, the game is over; all cards are wiped clean, and the game begins again. So, on a daily basis, employees have a small financial incentive to work safely. Additionally, as each game nears its end and bingo cards start to fill up, collective group peer pressure to work safely and avoid accidents mounts.
Second, as each day's number is announced, it is coupled with a safety slogan of the day. These slogans can be used in a number of ways. For example, winners might be required to memorize one or more slogans to collect their winnings. Or smaller prizes (for example, a free token to the cafeteria vending machines) can be given to randomly selected employees who have memorized the slogan of the day on any given day. Or you might solicit slogans from your employees for a chance to win a prize if their slogan is presented on the day the bingo pot is won. The variations are limited only by your creativity.
But wait, you might argue that this company is paying its employees to work safely; why should employees be rewarded simply for doing their job? This is a valid point. The goal, however, is to maintain a safe workplace. Aeroglide's experience has been that this relatively small financial outlay is a good investment if it eliminates lost time and lost productivity caused by accidents.
Why is Safety Bingo successful? Perhaps because everyone has a chance to win. Maybe because it puts safety in the forefront every day, either in the form of a safety slogan or simply in the banter associated with the prospect of winning. Perhaps it is because the program requires maintaining an accident-free environment.
Whatever the reason, Safety Bingo appears to be working for Aeroglide. In a year when the company's work flow has been at an all-time high, with a large group of new, inexperienced employees, in a work space that has never been so crowded, employees have managed to work the year without a lost-time accident.
An employer's responsibility is to provide a safe workplace. However, the ultimate responsibility for avoiding accidents rests with the employees themselves. Given that safety—unlike profitability, delivery, and quality—doesn't cry out daily for attention, employers should try everything possible to help keep employees focused on safe work practices. In doing so, they're more likely to keep all the plates spinning together and get a standing ovation at the end of the act!