Fact Sheet

Recognizing Some Barriers to Implementing Workplace Safety Programs

Top management support

Unless the elected official and senior management make a visible commitment to institutionalizing workplace-safety practices, the public entity will remain at status quo. Top management support means changing the reward structure and imposing difficult consequences for those employees who do not engage in safety practices. Top management’s modeling the desired behavior is essential for a workplace-safety program to become institutionalized.

Lack of understanding/appreciation

People at all levels of the entity need to understand why safety is a crucial issue and how to actively and effectively participate in a workplace safety program. It can be difficult to convey that knowledge and appreciation to an entire organization. Training is one way of beginning the process. Another way is to identify the amount of time and money that accidents/injuries are costing the entity—money that could be used to purchase needed resources.

Time

Implementing a workplace safety program is an investment of time and energy that is well spent. Time, however, can act as a barrier to designing and delivering a quality program. Because time is always at a premium, senior management commitment and priorities need to be set to allow the rest of the entity to invest the necessary amount of time and energy to design and maintain an effective program.

Communication

Lack of clarity about the issues surrounding safety and the consequences of accidents and injuries to the entity’s overall well-being are often barriers to workplace safety. The organization needs to clearly and consistently communicate performance expectations about safety. Spell out the entity’s goals and objectives in terms of reducing the cost and frequency of accidents and injuries. The potential cost of accidents and injuries need to be addressed as well.

Organizational structure

The entity’s organizational structure and location of offices can present a barrier to an effective workplace safety program. If workplaces and worksites are located in multiple sites, it may be difficult to ensure a standard approach to workplace safety. A highly decentralized organization also presents challenges in carrying out safety goals.

Recommendations

Although it is helpful to identify potential barriers to implementing an effective workplace safety program, it is more important to identify ways to overcome those barriers. Management support for workplace-safety strategies often come about because of a bench marking: a standard or point of reference by which others may be measured or judged. “Benchmarking” is a private-sector tool that can also be a valuable public-sector tool. It can be used to illustrate how each department compares to others in terms of safety.

Establishing a bench mark is a valuable way to leverage the natural internal competition that exists within any organization. Internal competition to “measure up” can be the catalyst for change within the entity. Publicizing how much accidents and injuries are costing the entity can underscore the serious nature of safety. For example, stating: The money what the money paid in claims this year would have funded, makes the consequences of the actions tangible. Comparing departmental cost of accidents/injuries such as those reflected in insurance premium experience can be used to spur a change in behavior. Additionally, when managers are associated with their programs’ or departments’ scores, they begin to own the costs of injuries and accidents within their departments. Similarly, comparing cost of insurance to cover safety among the various locations or branches of an entity can begin to quantify safety issues.

By linking performance reviews and financial incentives with safety goals and objectives, employees and managers can observe senior management’s commitment to change. Safety can also be a conduit that shows the link between efficiency and employee morale. Emphasis on safety shows employees that their employer cares about their well-being, and can open the door to better management/employee relations. Management also achieves the same objectives by demonstrating how commitment to safety is commitment to the state or local government’s citizens.

Resources

Best Practices to Overcoming Barriers

Organization Safety Culture Checklist

Weller, Alfred O. and Lisa Sayegh, “Value Benchmarks for Public Entities,” Public Risk, May/June 1998, Public Risk Management Association