Maintaining a Safe workplace Despite Radical Downsizing


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This presentation was made by Phil La Duke at the Michigan Safety Conference in Lansing Michigan on April 20th 2010

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  • It’s no secret to anyone who has been within earshot of a news outlet that we are battling through the worst recession in most people’s memories. The Great Recession poses the single greatest challenge to worker safety in history. As company’s fight to survive, more and more of them are diverting funds away from worker safety to keep the company from going out of business.
  • The current situation in industry is a mixed bag of (relative) good news and bad news. Unfortunately, the good news isn’t all that good: Lower production numbers mean fewer opportunities for injuries. The safest organizations are the those that have gone out of business; after all, shuttered factories and abandoned warehouses seldom hurt workers. But even in less stark examples, fewer people working mean fewer people hurt at work. And while fewer people working is nobody’s desired state, the fact remains that less people are getting hurt. Similarly, Slower production tends to decrease the risk of injuries. A slower work pace typically allows workers to concentrate on the tasks at hand and a more leisurely production pace may make injuries easier to prevent and hazards easier to contain. Fear of Fraud is Unfounded. While many fear an increase in fraudulent claims proceeding a layoff research has shown that this number is generally negligible and in those cases where employee do present with fraudulent claims the heighten sensitivity to possible fraudulent claims makes it increasingly difficult for employees to get away with falsified claims. Less funding generally does not equate to more injuries. In a recent, respondents reported that while 68% of the firms had cut funding to loss prevention only about a third of those firms saw any increase in injuries. Workers’ Compensation Claims are failing, but---according to John Shrift of the Oregon Department of Business Services so is funding for Workers’ Compensation fraud prevention, staffing of Workers’ Compensation agencies, and return to work services
  • High seniority workers moved to unfamiliar jobs may lead to more injuries Many workers will not report injuries for fear of being let go Fewer work hours create higher rates for the same number of injuries Fewer workers inflate the rates Workers’ Compensation costs rise. Severity rates rise. Studies have shown that there is an increase in the severity of which a worker is injured. One reason for this, according to Delays in processing claims that delay treatment of legitimate Workers’ Compensation claims increase the costs associated with treating the injury and delay the employee’s return to work.
  • Surprisingly little research has been conducted on the relationship of downsizing to worker injuries What research that does exist suggests that Workers’ Compensation claims increase, the cost is higher, and people are out longer Worker stress is seen as the largest influencer in the trend toward more injuries
  • Risk mitigation . In an economic downturn the workplace and process fills with variation and this variation can be a key contributor to worker injuries. When you talk to your leadership make it clear that you are there to help protect the company by mitigating the risk of injury but also mitigating the risk of liability to them personally and to the company----the last thing the company needs is the cost of a lawsuit, a major disaster, or other injury related cost. Fraud prevention . Even though research contends that there is actually less fraud in economic downturns, Operations leadership often finds that research difficult to believe. Take an active and visible proactive approach to reducing the possibility of worker fraud. Tactical approach. For years I have been preaching the need for a more strategic approach to safety. But now is the time for a tactical approach. Resources are more precious than ever and we need to take more of a short-term view of worker safety until the company is able to get on its feet and stability returns. Of course we will want to shift back to a more strategic approach once the crisis passes. Containment versus correction. Correction of hazards may not be feasible, but instead of not doing anything, remind Operations that we can’t afford not to implement effective containment. Once the crisis has passed we can then implement a more solid permanent solution. Out of the box thinking. We need to look for creative short-term solutions until the crisis eases and we can afford to invest in process improvments.
  • Invest in refresher training. Refresher training need not be expensive, but it should be effective. Take time to retrain workers who may seem to know the job but would benefit from additional training. Validate that workers are qualified for the job to which they have been reassigned. Not just whether or not they know how to do the job but whether they are physically able to do so. Revisit your safety strategy. Your safety strategy was probably designed to protect workers in boom times, or at very least during steady state production. Take another look at your strategy and modify it for the context that your organization is currently in. Work on appropriate job placements. Beyond the obvious seniority rules and physical aptitude you should consider how a job placement might be effecting the overall team. Placing people who are highly stressed into work groups with people with which they have existing conflicts is a recipe for disaster. If you have a Union, now is a good time to work together to ensure that workers are getting placed on jobs that won’t hurt them. Consider short-term containments activities instead of permanent fixes. I’ve never been a fan of job rotation---as one of my clients described it “it’s just hurting more workers slower” but these kind of containment solutions may be ideal short-term solutions Review and revise Job Safety Analysis in the context of lower volume production. JSAs need to be dynamic document and when there is a dramatic downsizing there are typically numerous and major changes to the process. This process variation represents the single greatest threat to worker safety in an economic downturn. Capitalize on the situation . Mao said “all change comes from the barrel of a gun” and to a large extent that is true. Radical downsizing is nobody’s idea of a good time, but it does afford us the opportunity to implement real and lasting cultural changes in our organization.
  • What I would like you to do know is go back to your organization and take a look at your info
  • Maintaining a Safe workplace Despite Radical Downsizing

    1. 1. O/E Learning Presents… Maintaining a Safe Workplace Despite Radical Downsizing Phil La Duke
    2. 2. It’s Rough Out There…
    3. 3. The Good News • Total injury figures are falling • Slower production = less risk • Fear of fraud is unfounded • Less funding generally does not equate to more injuries • Workers’ Compensation claims are falling
    4. 4. The Bad News • High seniority workers moved to unfamiliar jobs may lead to more injuries • Many workers will not report injuries for fear of being let go • Fewer work hours create higher rates for the same number of injuries • Fewer workers inflate the rates • Workers’ Compensation costs rise • Severity rates rise
    5. 5. Findings • Very little research • Workers’ Compensation costs rise • Stress is the greatest threat
    6. 6. Protecting the Company • Risk mitigation • Fraud prevention • Tactical approach • Containment versus correction • Out of the box thinking
    7. 7. Protecting Workers • Refresher training • Qualify workers • Revisit your safety strategy • Job placements • Consider short-term containment • Revise Job Safety Analysis • Implement Stress Management • Capitalize on the situation
    8. 8. Conclusion • Questions?
    9. 9. Thank You!