Safety Innovation: Improving Safety in the Workplace


When people think “innovation,” it usually involves conjuring some disruptive app or self-driving car. However, there are many types of innovation and for some industries safety is extremely important. Transportation, manufacturing, energy, healthcare, agriculture, and mining are all markets that involve working in environments with equipment that might cause injury or death to the operator. The American Society of Engineers estimates that the total economic impact from workplace accidents is 142 billion dollars and a staggering 120 million days of lost productivity. The repercussions of an accident are significant from lost productivity, fines, civil damages, and increased insurance premiums. To stay proactive, innovating your safety program is a competitive advantage that can increase your bottom line and help take better care of those employees that are working for you. In order for a safety innovation program to work, everyone must be able to participate and actively give feedback.

Occupational Workplace Safety Hazardous Industries Graphic

At an oil refinery in Nipomo, California, hundreds of employees climb through pipes, work near flammable chemicals and poisonous sulfur dioxide, cimb inside tanks, and weld with open torches. And yet this same refinery received an award in 2011 for not having a single incident in hundreds of days, a perfect safety record. The reason behind this was due to several factors:

Safety Officer:

Wear Safety Glasses

Someone needs to be able to enforce the rules and people need to know that safety itself is not a voluntary proposition. That individual needs to be tasked with compliance of all the safety rules throughout the organizations and with the supervisors. Certain employees will always be lax but building a safety culture requires a strict adherence. Just like a pilot must do when preparing for takeoff, nobody should get the option of doing it their unique way. Safety rules were instituted for the protection of the employee and for the company.

Open Dialogue:

During a turnaround, which is the name given to the shutdown of a refinery and a large crew of people showing up to inspect and do maintenance work on it, the entire team starts each morning with a safety briefing. Every person in the room can suggest or point out a safety issue. It’s a complete open forum. Any safety idea management program must involve the opportunity for 100% involvement. After all, the people who actually work in the field and on the machines in the back of the factory are going to be better suited to identify issues that might affect them. Integrating a management platform or holding regular scheduled meetings is the most effective. A simple employee suggestion box is not enough, unless you plan to offer incentive suggestions. Safety must be seen as a priority. Use of an employee review system that in part emphasizes safety is an important step.

Learn from Accidents:

Form a committee or appoint someone to investigate every accident, with emphasis on how it can be prevented in the future. Back in the golden age of 1946, 12.5 million people flew on an airplane in the United States and there were nearly 400 fatalities, meaning you had a .0003% chance of being in an accident. Conversely, in 2014 the rate was essentially zero for commercial aircraft, despite carrying 820,000,000 passengers. That’s why you always hear how it’s safer to be in an airplane than almost any activity you can imagine. The reason this was all possible was because with each accident, a detailed investigation was done and changes were made, so with each accident the system got stronger. It wasn’t just the airplanes. The largest problem was found to be pilot error, so they came up with standardization where everyone did everything the same, in the same sequence, and was required to double check each action. This, more than anything, helped increase safety as it made it impossible to “wing it” when it came to lives at stake and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. Your organization can adopt the same philosophy that all accidents are learning experiences and recommendations should be made and adopted to strengthen your safety program.

Using Analytics:

Keep detailed data on all injuries, where they occurred, what the person was doing, and what led to the accident. When you have a large list of ideas the analytics will help you narrow down which ideas may have the greatest impact. Metrics are highly important and should be shared with the whole organization, since that helps you set the goal that people can measure by and aspire to do better than.


Safety Culture:

Most employees do not naturally want to be seen as complaining and in many of these industries tend to be more hardy and less likely than other industries to bring a potential safety issue to their supervisor. It’s deeply important that you have a safety first organization and that they are shown recognition and appreciation for bringing safety issues forward, as opposed to sweeping them under the rug, which damages the company. Imagine someone who lives down in Amarillo, Texas, and works in a plant that makes paint chemicals. Perhaps he works at the back of the plant and has had some trouble breathing with the strong fumes coming off a nearby machine. Now, he doesn’t want to be seen to be complaining, nor does he want to single himself out as being overly sensitive when everyone else seems fine. It’s more likely he won’t say anything. Several years later the plant is subject to a lawsuit and a lengthy investigation as those fumes are believed to have caused cancer. This ultimately results in the plant shutting down. If the company had an open safety culture, they would have been told what the employee had experienced and others would have come forward. They could have taken mitigating steps, like increasing ventilation and containment of the chemicals and would have had no problems whatsoever. Instead the company is involved in a class action lawsuit and could very well become insolvent. 


On Collective Innovation there is a feature called Challenges, which allows you to pose the problem and allows your employees to solve it. In this way, you should not only ask for employees to tell you what seems unsafe, but to propose the solutions. In many cases they will know best what would remedy the issue entirely. Safety challenges are a great way to keep an organization focused on increasing its measurable goals of reducing workplace injury. With a little emphasis you should be able to make a significant decrease in your workplace accidents and help create a better business.


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