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The Impact Workplace Safety Programs Have on Company Culture

How strong employee workplace safety programs can increase the effectiveness of a company’s food safety and quality program.

By Heather Fairman, EAS Consulting Group

Consumer brand loyalty comes with greater trust built through both consistent quality and safety of food products; the latter two aspects being key requirements mandated by regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This is a critical focus of the Agency across every industry under its regulatory oversight and more so now over the food industry especially given the most sweeping preventive reform of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). 

Companies that take pride in the sustainability of their brand quality and safety, invest heavily in continuous product development and process improvement to grow their bottom line. But how many of these companies also place the same emphasis on one of their most valuable assets, people? Is the focus also on continuous employee safety and security improvements? Or is it a focus only when a serious accident occurs or multiple incidents that threaten or cause the loss of workers compensation coverage?

The goal of ensuring the safety of employees within these food and beverage industries is equally important to the outcome of product safety and quality; and is a goal that can only be accomplished through committed and exemplified leadership.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership” says John C. Maxwell, one of the nation’s most popular leadership thinkers. The safety culture therefore rests on the shoulders of industries’ leaders.In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed. The Act requires that employers responsibly provide a safe workplace; and as such consequently serves to protect employees in the workplace from being seriously killed or harmed.  It was from this law that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was derived and today is the federal Agency that is responsible for the enforcement of workplace safety and health standards

Under the regulatory umbrella of the United States Department of Labor (US DOL), current OSHA standards and enforcement-related information are required to be implemented and incorporated into each workplace environment inclusive of mandatory training of all employees.  The goal and intention of this training and education is to ensure employee safety and to prevent and/or eliminate workplace hazards and accidents.  Much like the FSMA rules, OSHA rules are also designed to create a culture and mindset of prevention.

Based on a November 2017 report provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses occurred in 2016 as were reported by companies that comprise private industry. This translates to a rate of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers; additionally in 2016, there were 5,190 workers killed on the job; an average of 14 deaths per day.  Also on the rise is workplace violence, which according to trade association digital magazine EHSToday, “increased by 23 percent, making it the second-most common cause of workplace fatality.”   Although these numbers collectively represent all of the reported incidents in private business, inclusive in this information is manufacturing and production companies across the food and drug industry.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an agency of the Department of Labor (DOL), has for over 100 years been the most accurate source for reporting workplace associated activities and particularly those associated with workplace injury, illnesses and fatalities. This information is not just used by the DOL to determine and hold employers accountable for ensuring employee safety in the workplace, but it is also used by Workers Compensation companies to measure the impact of company responsibility to ensure safety and security programs are effective and injuries (non-fatal and fatal) are non-existent or greatly reduced.  Loss of workers compensation coverage is devastating to a company’s ability to be in business.

It is therefore important and should be a priority for companies to keep this in the forefront of their corporate goals. In the food and supplement industry, safety and security should not just be considerations given to the product supply. Safety and security is about people too, so employers should remain focused on their employees. As noted earlier in this article, employee absenteeism in 2016 was due in great part to on-the-job injuries and illnesses incurred. When an employee is not able to perform their normal job function or even be present at work, this without doubt affects the companies “bottom line.”  Schedules and personnel may have to get juggled around product-runs get delayed or even cancelled for the day. Inevitably the absence of employees becomes negatively impacting to a firm and consequently to product quality outcomes.There are a few practical set of steps that a company can take to initially establish a successful workplace environment that follows the acronym SAFCET© (pronounced ‘safe-set’):

  • Strong Awareness: Get edified and develop strong awareness through gathering credible and accurate information from the available government resources (mentioned earlier in the article), or from your Liability Insurer. After so doing, consider hiring an experienced safety expert or specialist, or a qualified consulting firm to perform what is known as a Gap Analysis and Evaluation of the work environment and the employee training records.
  • Forthright Communication:  Just as brand loyalty and trust is built with consumers through a consistently safe and quality product, so must trust be fostered between the employees and management through forthright exchange of communication.  The success of such relationships occur when unsafe situations or “near-miss” problems (i.e. an accident that can be prevented) are identified, shared and corrected through joint effort.  To quote the saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adds great value to the strength of a company’s safety program and environment.  Also, an important factor is the establishment and functioning of diverse employee safety committees which demonstrates a willingness to work together and listen respectfully to ideas for betterment of the work environment.
  • Effective Training: No strong employee workplace safety program is without effective training supported by strong management ‘buy-in’.  Having the right trainers, right information and right approach toward educating employees at the level of their learning model (i.e. providing training that is not difficult to understand but rather easy to grasp) and with helpful visual learning and assessment tools is vital. If there are non-English speaking employees amongst the workforce this must also be taken into account by providing suitable and reasonable translations.  You may find that the OSHA site or state office4 may provide free literature in multiple languages, or you could contact a qualified consulting firm like EAS that can assist with providing the appropriate information.

Companies that are intentional about applying the SAFCET© approach are more likely to create improved occupational safety and enhanced employee morale, and overall job satisfaction which as a result can be transferred to a parallel commitment to strong cGMP and food safety program awareness and practices throughout all operational processes.  In essence, happy, healthy and safe employees make for a productive workforce.