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Many hands make workplace safety light work

Study shows encouraging participation among employees leads to better overall safety performance
Calvin Benchimol, left, and Jeff Iwasiw show off the software eCompliance uses to calculate safety compliance for companies working to improve their records and participation. (Karen McKinley photo)

To make a workplace a safer one, participation is key.

But what kind of participation and how companies encourage it is the subject of an ongoing study with a Toronto-based firm looking to share information while gathering new data from Sudbury companies.

Calvin Benchimol, director of corporate strategy with eCompliance, a safety software app company, gave a presentation on company workplace safety participation at the North America Mining Expo on Sept. 12 and 13 in the Sudbury community of Hanmer.

While there representing the company, he said the presentation isn't a sales pitch. It's to show the quantitative results of a 2017 safety participation study conducted by EHS Daily Advisor, a health and safety journal, and sponsored by eCompliance.

In Participation Counts: a Look at Participation-Based Safety, researchers asked safety professionals what they thought would improve workplace safety on sites, and 98 per cent of them said employee participation.

Before EHS could start the study, however, researchers needed to build a standard definition of ‘participation’ that could be applied across companies.

“Up to this point, there is no standard definition of participation,” Benchimol said. “In the 2017 study, companies would define it as anything to do that is safety-related, or they would be specific about metrics they were tracking.”

Researchers interviewed people from 40 companies and followed their safety performance from 2012 to 2017 to track connections between safety performance and safety participation. To make safety participation work, the companies and employees had to be actively applying safety measures on site.

Benchimol said they differentiated between active and passive participation. Passive is attending talks and courses without direct application to the workforce. Active is actually doing a task and making note of results on site.

They plugged that data into programs that showed the correlation between the number of employees actively participating, what activities they were performing, and the number of incidents.

The data showed that once a number of employees were actively participating in safety activities, incidents went down. Also, as more companies encouraged employees to be active in safety culture, more employees adopted it, increasing participation.

Survey results showed that the top quarter of participants actively engaged in safety activities at a rate of 60 per cent, or an average of 180 safety activities during the year.

“If you consider there are 200 working days in a year, those companies did an activity for 180 of those days,” Benchimol said.

Having the entire workforce adopt a safety culture rather than one small department doing most of the work increased the rate of participation. By spreading work among staff and bringing in different perspectives from other people, it instilled responsibility and ownership in the employees.

Benchimol said it is possible to have a high-performing company with only 20 per cent of the workforce participating, but it would take three to four safety activities daily to achieve those numbers.

Those companies that had a 20 per cent or less adoption rate were often stuck in the third or fourth quarter.

In a related finding, when companies first started safety adoption, they recorded an increase in injuries. Benchimol said this may be due to the company paying more attention and formally reporting incidents than in the past.

“They are more aware of risks around the business, but they were just not reporting all of them,” he said. “They are looking at this as ‘Is this something we were lucky about in the past and didn't report it, or is this something new they were not aware of?’”

There still needs to be some leadership in a workplace for safety cultures to be applied. Benchimol said they found the successful companies identified a safety leader, someone who could get other employees to adopt measures and pass them along.

As well, it is critical that management and owners also adopt a safety mindset to set the example for the rest of the workers.

In a related study, Benchimol looked at the adoption rate of 200 companies for the month of July 2018. Those who had an adoption rate of about 40 per cent were the highest performing.

This leads him to conclude that 40 per cent was a critical number in pushing a workplace's safety performance into the top quarter.

“The magic is really getting more than half of your business actively and intentionally looking for risks,” he said.

This high compliance can influence everything from profits to hiring success. Younger people looking for work may be looking at safety records before considering applying for a job. People want to fit in, Benchimol said, and the safety culture will be easy for them to pick up and follow along.

These are preliminary numbers and the company is still studying results. The hope now is to show the research numbers to other companies and they will be willing to share their numbers as well.