Building a Better brand with Solid Safety Practices

June is National Safety Month—a great time to review your organization’s safety policies and vision to help ensure they move your brand forward. And although “safety” may be something more often associated with industries, such as construction,  transportation, aviation, trucking, and manufacturing, every single company is affected by good (or bad) safety practices. 

Reputation can make or break your brand. But while strategies for marketing and advertising abound, one often overlooked factor in creating a positive perception of a company and its products is safety.

Where none of us wants to be is on the defense after an incident occurs, which means being proactive is imperative if we want to protect and enhance our brand image. Crisis management, which happens after an incident or threat occurs, is different than risk management, which involves proactively putting in place the policies and procedures that stave off incidents and threats. The latter is where we want to be to provide maximum value to our brand.

Impressions matter...to everyone

Good brand value helps companies attract better employees, entice consumers to buy their products and services, and enhance their revenues. Conversely, a brand whose value is diminished can expect the opposite.

In their Harvard Business Review article “Reputation and Its Risks,” authors Robert G. Eccles, Scott C. Newquist, and Roland Schatz note that just one negative event can have a large impact on a company even if it has been perceived positively in the marketplace. They cite BP, which suffered reputational blows after a March 2005 refinery fire and explosion in Texas that killed 15 people and a pipeline leak in Alaska in 2006. BP blamed the refinery incident on lax operating practices; federal investigators claimed cost-cutting also was a factor. Regardless, reputation damage from these incidents was extensive.

By contrast, Qantas is an example of a company whose name has become synonymous with safety. Once again in 2021, it was named the safest airline by AirlineRatings.com, which cited Qantas’ initiative in being “the first or second (airline) to introduce the 16 major safety enhancements introduced in the past 60 years.” This focus has made the Australian airline an icon of excellence.

Physical and psychological safety

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has had its share of challenges in the safety arena.  Most recently, the company has come under fire for a higher-than-normal injury rate of employees at its warehouse facilities. To help untarnish its reputation, the company has invested hundreds of millions the past year in safety enhancements, including in the recent rollout of its “WorkingWell” employee safety and injury prevention program. 

With any safety program, top-down corporate mandates have a limited influence on employees. To get more buy-in and active participation, HR and safety managers need to enlist employees as collaborators in adopting safety measures. Employees also need to feel safe in reporting actual or perceived safety violations without fear of retaliation or humiliation. This “psychological safety” – the belief that one won’t be punished for speaking up – not only creates a culture where employees feel safe, but it also encourages them to become part of the broader solution. 

Notably, when Google conducted a study of high-performing teams several years ago, it discovered that instilling a culture where employees feel “safe” to share ideas and identify issues without fear of repercussions leads to higher employee engagement and retention, which enhances a company’s brand internally and externally. 

Self-reporting and assessment can be done on an individual level; another approach is to set up a safety committee that brings together employees from all levels and job descriptions in a respectful environment. This ensures that prevention and mitigation policies and processes reflect the needs and concerns of team members across the organization. 

At the same time, collaboration only works when organizations establish a sense of trust. Employees who fear lost wages may not report safety violations or injuries. Similarly, an employee may come to work tired after caring for a sick child all night. Businesses can mitigate fears and create psychological safety with policies that offer, for example, flexibility to adjust job responsibilities for the day, shift trading, or paid leave.

Top-notch safety programs are a blend of clear policies, effective reporting, and proactive prevention. Formal, written safety policies only take companies so far, and many businesses’ good intentions are hampered because they rely on paper-based safety systems that are more effective at reporting what happened than preventing incidents in the first place. 

The companies most successful at building a brand anchored on safety and ensuring customers’ confidence take advantage of digital environment, health and safety (EHS) solutions. Using EHS systems like SafetyTek, they can not only report quickly on safety practices, compliance, events, and other related information but also predict and address potential safety hazards, and ensure that employees are well-trained on safety best practices. 

The bottom line

Plain and simple, safety is good for business. An effective safety practice protects employees and raises their morale; it also creates positive impressions about the brand, which can raise its value in the eyes of consumers and shareholders. From health protection protocols to ergonomic/mechanical safety and a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable and valued, sound safety practices are vital to a company’s success and viability.



Make Health and Safety a Competitive Advantage

The signs of a strengthening economy are everywhere as industries that had to shut down or significantly scale back operations last year are roaring back to life. In the United States alone, gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2021 grew 6.4%, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the wake of this growth, companies across a range of industries are competing for employees, customers, and market share. Yet many of these organizations are missing out on one of the most important competitive factors in today's market: employee health and safety.

 Let's look at how having strong health and safety practices in place can complement other factors—such as quality products and service, innovation, timely delivery, convenience, and attractive pricing—in gaining a competitive edge. 

Competing for Employees

Today, many businesses are struggling to attract and retain employees even as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Reports an unemployment rate that has stubbornly hovered just above 6.1%. Larger corporations are tackling the challenge by increasing compensation. For example, Amazon announced that it is increasing the wages of 500,000 workers, and in many cases, the company is offering $1,000 signing bonuses. Similarly, McDonalds is providing $500 signing bonuses at its corporate-owned locations. 

 The financial incentives aren't necessarily leading everyone to line up for jobs in droves. Some of today's unemployed are parents who cannot afford to go back to work until their children fully return to the classroom. Millions of others are not yet convinced that the pandemic is under enough control for them to safely take jobs that require them to be onsite. Moreover, many of the unemployed are rethinking their careers. According to a 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center, 66% of unemployed people have "seriously considered" changing their field of work.

 All of these factors point to the need for organizations to promote both opportunity for growth and quality of life in recruiting employees. The latter means having strong health and safety measures in place. After all, behind the statistics for workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are the very real suffering and financial hardship these events can cause for workers and their families.

 The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends focusing on proactive strategies for ensuring health and safety. "Traditional approaches are often reactivethat is, problems are addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes sick, a new standard or regulation is published, or an outside inspection finds a problem that must be fixed," OSHA states. "Recommended practices recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is a far more effective approach."

Promoting compliance with OSHA health and safety standards is one way to demonstrate to current and prospective employees is that the company is making their welfare a priority. Another is conducting safety tours—live or via video—with job candidates to dispel impressions of dirty and unsafe work environments. A third is to market back the safety training, reporting, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in place to demonstrate the organization’s safety culture. Finally, the use of modern cloud and mobile-based safety training and management can attract younger candidates who expect similarities between their work and consumer experiences.

 

Attracting Customers

Whether an organization’s customers are consumers or other businesses, purchase decisions increasingly go beyond cost. There is an increasing awareness and demand for corporate responsibility that extends across employees, the community, and the environment. 

For example, in May 2020, a coalition of Iowa groups called for a ”Meatless May” consumer boycott of meat to demand better working conditions for employees in crowded factories that had become Covid-19 super-spreaders.

Among business customers, there’s also growing demand for suppliers and partners to ensure safe work conditions. Notably, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across a range of industries understand that their own brand value can be helped or hindered by how well subcontractors or suppliers protect their employees. Beyond brand value, there’s also the risk of litigation, for example when there is an injury with a subcontractor’s employee working onsite for a construction company. As part of risk mitigation, many businesses will look at OSHA compliance and injury rates factors when choosing with whom to partner.

For highly regulated industries—notably food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and medical products—safety is key to federal compliance. In these sectors, injuries can potentially cause contamination that requires whole batches or production runs to be rejected or recalled. The Wall Street Journal noted that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report on Emergent BioSolutions did not maintain the plant in a clean and sanitary condition and that workers failed to adhere to proper procedures for wearing sterile gowns. Emergent is the contract manufacturer that contaminated 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The Emergent is one example of how failing to adhere to safety procedures at one company can disrupt business continuity for its customer. There are many more cases where injuries to workers have disrupted not only a manufacturer’s business but that of one or more customers. Anytime a machine or piece of equipment is involved in an injury, it needs to be pulled offline until a full review and reporting are completed and any required adjustments to improve safety have been made. Depending on the set-up, the review of the machinery or equipment could put a pause on the entire production line, delaying the delivery of parts and in turn delaying the customer’s ability to bring products to market. 

Companies can compete on safety and ensure business customers’ confidence by using digital environment, health and safety (EHS) solution to quickly report on safety practices, compliance, events and other related information. The live or virtual safety tours with job candidates can also be used to market back safety practices to prospective customers.

 

Growing Market Share

The money that companies pay as a result of employee injuries is money that cannot be invested in areas that contribute to growing the business’ market share—from research and development, to employees, facilities, equipment, and other capital investments.

Consider the 2020 Liberty Mutual Safety Index, which notes that the top 10 causes of workplace injuries cost U.S. businesses over $1 billion per week. Looking more broadly, Warren K. Brown, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), has noted that companies spend about $170 billion a year on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses.

OSHA violations, alone, start at $13,494 per incident, and the maximum penalty is ten-fold at $134,927. Then there are the costs to increased workers’ compensation claims, lawsuits, and lost business due to unmet deadlines or damaged reputations. 

Those businesses that proactively put strong workplace health and safety measures in place—and avoid the high costs of health and safety incidents—will be best positioned to invest in delivering the innovative products and services that drive growing market adoption.

National Day of Mourning – April 28

As Canada’s National Day of Mourning approaches on April 28, it is undoubtedly a somber day. The loss of life while working is shocking and maddening and leaves us all wondering, "Was that worth it?" 

For anyone who has been affected by a loved one or friend being taken too soon, there is genuinely a sense of loss that can be very hard to reconcile. 

It seems unimaginable that somebody could lose their life at work in today's day and age. Yet here we are, where there are multiple lives lost every day due to workplace incidents. The reality is, this number hasn't moved since the early '90s.

While safety is paramount to an organization's productivity, it is surprising to see the number of companies that still think safety is a burden on their ability to perform work. This mindset trickles down to the workers where they no longer feel psychologically safe to refuse unsafe work. They have been led to believe that they don't have the power to say no if they don't feel safe, or worse, they feel as though they would be viewed as weak if they worry about safety over getting the job done. 

The mentality that normalizes risk is the battle we need to take on from the front lines. If you are a worker, you should know your rights when it comes to refuse unsafe work. A company can't let you go if you don't know how or can't complete a task safely with the equipment provided.

The fact that there needs to be a day of mourning should be very unsettling. Loss of life at work is not normal, and we as a society should not accept it. 

While the loss of life at work is viewed as the worst-case scenario, we often gloss over crippling incidents that occur regularly. While they don't end in a fatality, these incidents have life-long damaging effects on the individuals and the community where they live. Back injuries, broken bones, torn ligaments, severed limbs are all examples of injuries that last longer than the days away from work. They can stay with a person for the rest of their lives, placing an added layer of complexity onto every decision they make from the time of the injury into the future.

While we mourn the loss of so many who have been taken from us too early, let's also question our workplace practices to make sure they do all they can to provide a safe work environment, not just safe from fatality but also unneeded injuries.

Using Technology for Safety 

Technology has the power to transform how companies approach safety in the workplace. Gone are the days of excessive paperwork and searching through file cabinets for forms. Safety management software solutions provide an effective way to collect and track safety data that help increase the safety of your workplace. 

But what does “going digital” really mean for workplace safety? It’s a lot more than using a computer to help you with your filing system. Going digital means implementing a safety management software system that not only provides a storage place for your data but also gives you powerful and effective safety insights.

Ask any safety professional and they will tell you the main problem is usually overwhelming frustration with paperwork and time management. Many safety managers struggle to make a real impact because their days are spent putting out fires that could have been avoided in the first place. This problem is impossible to solve using traditional paperwork unless you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars to send a team to each active job site in your organization. 

Along with this, the second most common problem is improving safety culture. Safety managers want their workers to actively participate in safety. Many organizations struggle to make this happen because field-level workers tend to view safety paperwork as just a liability waiver instead of a method to protect themselves and their co-workers. 

The correct software solution fulfills both of these problems - It would get rid of the mounds of paperwork and encourage safety engagement among field workers. You can discover precisely how safety gets performed within your workforce and create a plan to correct non-compliant behavior promptly. 

Imagine having the ability to confidently plan out your safety initiatives that ensure your workers go home the same way they came in! At SafetyTek, our priority is to help you do exactly that. 

So while we remember those who have lost their lives, or suffered an injury on the job, let us also look to the future and establish safety processes and practices in the workplace that prevent further injuries and deaths. 

Introducing QR Code Signatures to Quickly and Easily eSign Safety Forms

QR Codes (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) were first used in the automobile industry for tracking purposes. They quickly took off in other industries for a wide range of uses.  Apart from tracking, the two-dimensional barcode constructed of small squares arranged in a square grid on a white background can contain data that points to a website or application, emails, phone numbers, and other identifiers. The codes are read by smartphone cameras or specialized devices dedicated to QR reading, such as hand-held scanners, handy terminals, and fixed scanners embedded in other devices and apps. Because of this relative ease of use, their application scope extends to general marketing and item identification to document management.

In safety management, QR Codes have been used to educate workers on how to use equipment; construction workers can watch a video or read instructions on how to use a tool or complex machinery by quickly scanning a QR Code that links to it. It is also used to provide medical details during emergencies. QR Code stickers placed on a workers’ helmet are scanned to reveal the worker’s name, contact details, training history, and medical history. 

How are we using QR Codes for safety?

It is considered best practice to ensure all team members that have participated in a safety meeting to document their involvement. On paper, this would come in the form of a signature or some other type of acknowledgment (check your name off, etc.) 

When we start to move into the world of digital paperless safety, the lines begin to blur. Technology today allows us to have digital signatures that replicate our physical signatures just fine; they can even place those signatures on any digital paperless safety form. 

The caveat of this is that you sacrifice one of the main advantages of a digital paperless safety solution. When you use an image capture box to sign in, you lose all reporting concerning viewing an individual's activity within the safety program. For example If you want to know what an employee or contractor has been participating in, you still need to open and read all of the safety forms that you think they have been a part of. This becomes tiresome as the information is not made readily available, just like on paper.

Enter QR Codes! Using a QR scanner built into the app, we can replace this antiquated signature method with a quick QR Code scan from the participants' smartphone or printed out QR Code. 

 

Not only does this solve the hidden information locked on a pdf from a digital paperless solution, but it also creates a much more secure and faster method to account for workers on site. Whether it's at the end of a safety meeting or checking-in, the QR Code is unique to every individual and can be used in many diverse ways. 

QR Code Sign-offs are now available in the SafetyTek mobile app. Users can sign-off on any safety document with a quick scan of a QR Code found in their profile, in addition to the username and pincode method as an option. 

For more details on how you can take advantage of this feature, book a call with one of our safety experts.

Case Study: Maine COVID-19 Superspreader Event

It started out as a picture-perfect wedding on a summer day in Maine: first the ceremony in a quaint chapel followed by a reception in a Victorian-style inn. But, the date was August 7, 2020, and by mid-September, the event had led to 177 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths. None of the people who died had attended the wedding or reception.

It’s easy enough to focus on the errors of the wedding party and the inn—there were no cases linked to the church. However, failures in prevention at four separate businesses fanned the coronavirus spread. Collectively, they provide a case study on lapses that companies need to actively avoid in 2021 as new viral strains demand more vigilance than ever.

The Inn

At the heart of the super spreading event was the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, Maine, site of the reception. Employees wore masks and took guests’ temperatures before letting them enter. However, they allowed the reception to exceed the state’s 50-person limit by five people, and the tables set up for four to six people made it difficult for guests from different households to maintain six-foot social distancing. Making matters worse, employees did not enforce the mask rule with guests, many of whom also came close together on the dance floor. No one at the inn collected information for contract tracing.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MeCDC) reported that the reception led directly to 30 coronavirus cases: half of the reception attendees, one employee, one vendor, and another guest of the inn. These infections led to another 27 secondary and tertiary cases in the community. One person, who was indirectly infected, died as a result.

The Long-Term Facility

One wedding reception guest spent time with their parent in the days that immediately followed. The parent worked 100 miles away from Millinocket at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison, Maine. By August 11, the parent experienced several coronavirus symptoms. On August 13, their test for COVID-19 came back positive.

Despite the employee’s symptoms, the rehabilitation center allowed this person to work onsite August 11 and 12. Additionally, there were no documented attempts of the facility attempting to isolate the worker from patients and colleagues. Ultimately, 38 people—14 staff members and 24 residents—caught COVID-19. Six of the residents died.

The Jail

Another wedding reception guest is a staff member at the York County Jail in Alfred, Maine, some 200 miles away from Millinocket. By August 15, the employee was experiencing coronavirus symptoms but proceeded to work at the jail August 15 through August 19 when the person’s COVID-19 test came back positive.

MeCDC in conjunction with the Maine Department of Corrections assessed the jail’s mitigation efforts and determined that the facility had not conducted daily symptom screening on staff members, nor had it enforced the regular use of masks even after the first case was confirmed. Only on August 27, more than a week after the initial coronavirus case, did the jail implement the CDC’s COVID-19 mitigation guidelines for correctional facilities.

By mid-September, a total of 82 COVID-19 cases associated with the jail had been confirmed: 18 staff members, 48 inmates, and 16 household contacts of the jail workers. Fortunately, no one was hospitalized, and no one died.

The School

Part of the community spread discussed earlier directly impacted schools in Millinocket, East Millinocket and nearby Medway. Notably, a staff member of the East Millinocket School who was a musician at the wedding reception, came down with COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive. Five additional employees and two students of the school also tested positive for the coronavirus.

The school acted quickly to halt the spread. Employees who were identified as having come into contact with infected co-workers went into self-quarantine, and schools in the three districts delayed the start of classes by two weeks. No known hospitalizations or deaths were tied to the school. 

Lessons Learned

The quick action by the East Millinocket School helped to contain the viral spread to eight people. This demonstrates the importance of having a mitigation plan in place so that an organization can move immediately if possible infection is detected. It also stands in sharp contrast to the York County Jail, which had a one-week lag in implementing mitigation measures recommended by the CDC and ended up with ten times as many COVID-19 cases.

Still, schools in three districts remained closed for two weeks. For many businesses, having to shut down for that length of time could translate into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Clearly, mitigation is too little, too late. The focus needs to be on prevention.

Onsite, that means adhering to coronavirus prevention guidelines provided by the CDC and other health organizations. Both the Big Moose Inn and York County Jail failed to enforce mask mandates, among other lapses. It’s likely that by August, employees at these organizations were experiencing coronavirus fatigue. 

The complacency at both the Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center and York County Jail, which allowed staff members with coronavirus symptoms to continue working onsite, points to another issue. We need to stop potentially exposed employees from coming into contact with co-workers, customers, patients, students, and others in the first place.

Solutions like SafetyTek COVID-19 Workforce Health Analysis can help with prevention and mitigate risks.

You may be struggling with COVID-19 employee self-assessments or questionnaires as required for compliance in most states. It's difficult to determine a proper best practice between local, municipal, state, and federal guidelines!

If you're collecting information manually or without immediate symptom notifications, there's a much better way.

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