Safety Programs in a Difficult Labor Market
by Gary Glader, Practice Area Leader, Safety Consulting, CCIG
Employers across the US have faced difficult circumstances during the last 18 months. Labor shortages, disruption in supply chains, changing directives regarding masks and social distancing, state and local mask mandates, and inflation are challenges every employer is dealing with as they simply try to keep their doors open during these remarkable times. We’re still waiting to see how the courts will rule on OSHA’s vaccine standard that mandates vaccines or testing for employers with more than 100 workers.
These challenges affect bottom line results, either by reducing output, increasing costs, or both. One of the more unique challenges employers face is the difficulty of filling job openings with qualified candidates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover report issued on October 12 produced the following statistics:
- 10.4 million job openings – a slight decrease
from previous months
- 6.3 million hires – a slight decrease from previous months
- 4.3 million job quits – an increase from previous months
It’s no surprise employers struggle to find qualified candidates to fill job vacancies across all industries. Because it’s so difficult to find new candidates, retaining the current workforce is a priority for employers. While wages are an important part of the strategy to retain good employees, employers should consider other approaches as well.
For employers in construction, safety is an important strategy to retain valued workers. This may be the one strategy where employers have the greatest ability to achieve the desired outcome. While it may be difficult to compete with rising wages associated with a tight labor market, it’s far more effective, and less expensive, for employers to keep their employees safe and on the job. Employers simply cannot afford to lose employees to work-related injuries.
Effective safety programs can prevent injuries, including those that result in time away from work or restrictions in the employee’s ability to perform their normal job functions. Additionally, the occurrence of incidents and injuries in the workplace can contribute to a degradation in safety culture that results in increased turnover, or the inability to attract new employees who are concerned about safety in the workplace.
In addition to the obvious benefit of preventing workplace injuries, effective safety programs can also promote the employer’s strong commitment to safety. This contributes to a culture of safety, while enhancing the employer’s image in the community, and its ability to attract new workers who value safety in the workplace.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer a silver bullet solution to improve safety in the workplace. Today’s successful safety programs are a complex mix of demonstrated commitment, hazard identification, hazard control, responsibility, accountability, and continuous improvement. Strong cultures of safety take time to build, so employers must decide if retaining employees through establishing an effective safety program should be part of their retention strategy.
It has been said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. This also applies to safety programs, but how do you “measure” a safety program? The traditional method is to look at lagging indicators, including OSHA incident rates and workers’ compensation experience modification ratings. A more effective method is to focus on leading indicators rather than waiting to count the number and extent of injuries.
Measuring the culture of safety is possible through completion of anonymous safety perception surveys. We’ve also heard the phrase “perception is reality”, and these surveys can gauge a worker’s perception of the employer’s safety program. While the employer management team may believe it maintains an industry leading safety program, employees may feel differently. The safety perception survey identifies gaps to facilitate the development of programs to eliminate them.
Employers should consider using this difficult labor market as an opportunity to evaluate and improve the quality and effectiveness of their safety program. If you’re interested in evaluating your safety culture, or making improvements in your safety program, please contact your CCIG team.