The Building Blocks of a Safe Workplace

Creating a comprehensive safety culture is the number-one way to reduce injuries and illnesses, and their associated costs. But building such a culture is not a “flavor of the month” program or an overnight process. Instead, it is a multi-year, top-management commitment that creates an organization with low accident rates, low absenteeism, low turnover, and high productivity. This is a big-picture, long-term project.

A healthy safety culture has the following characteristics:

  • There is a well-articulated commitment to safety at the highest organizational level. This translates into organization-wide beliefs, values, and behavioral norms.
  • Employees’ commitment to the safety culture is tied directly to their base compensation. This devotion is assessed in regular performance reviews.
  • Safety is prioritized over everything else, even production and efficiency. Employees who err on the side of safety should be praised, even if a later review suggests that the additional safety concerns or measures were unnecessary.
  • Communication about safety occurs across every level of the organization in a consistently open, honest, and unedited manner. If errors or problems are identified, they are eagerly communicated, recorded, and analyzed without anyone facing “persecution.”
  • Unsafe acts—the primary cause of accidents—are rare.
  • Employees constantly learn and identify opportunities for process improvements that will lower the chances of an accident.

The following sections examine in more detail some of the essential components of a successful safety culture.


It is nearly impossible to just guess the quality of your safety culture. Therefore, it is vital to benchmark where you are now, both in subjective terms and in analytical, objective measurements. By combining a periodic subjective culture survey with an analytical tracking system, you can better understand the effect your efforts to improve the safety culture are having over time.

Hiring to Avoid Workplace Injuries

Due to preexisting medical conditions or limitations, some applicants may be more prone to workplace injury.
It is commonly misunderstood that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits asking any medical questions at all during the hiring process. However, the Department of Labor states that there are actually three stages of employment: pre-employment, post-offer with pre-placement (after the conditional offer of employment) and finally, employment. It is true that you cannot ask any medical questions during the first and third phases. However, during the second stage (after a conditional offer of employment is extended) you can ask the applicant to complete a medical questionnaire and/or take a medical exam. If the applicant is medically unfit for the job, you may withdraw the offer. It’s that simple. To avoid hiring your next workers’ compensation claim, there are a couple of key processes you must implement.

The Conditional Offer of Employment

The ADA says that employers may not require an applicant to provide medical information or undergo a medical exam until a conditional offer of employment is made. You are essentially hiring the candidate when a conditional offer is made. The only way to withdraw an offer prior to the date of employment is if, in medical opinion, the candidate will be incapable of performing the job duties safely with reasonable accommodations.

The Medical Questionnaire/Exam

After you make a conditional offer of employment, it is time for the medical screening of the candidate. If information comes to light from the screening that shows that the candidate will not be able to perform the job duties safely even with reasonable accommodations, then and only then can you withdraw the offer of employment.
Stay Out of Trouble with OSHA
OSHA normally shows up at your workplace in response to employee complaints or a serious accident. The best way to prepare is to be in compliance. Not only does OSHA compliance ensure that safe work practices are being encouraged, it also helps you avoid costly fines. Fortunately, many of the most common OSHA violations are also the easiest to address.


OSHA requires that employers display certain notices and posters in the workplace. Most employers do not need to post every notice—many apply only to very specific industries or situations—but you should know which notices you are required to post.


OSHA also requires certain employers to track workplace illnesses and injuries, and report them periodically.


OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard states that workers must be made aware of all chemicals used in their workplace, the hazards they present, and instructions for handling them safely. This can be accomplished with safety data sheets (SDS), labels, and employee information and training.
In addition to the three key areas of common OSHA violations, there is another easy way for you to identify the top violations in your industry. OSHA has a searchable database of the most frequent OSHA violations by company size and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code.

Promoting the Health of Your Workers

As an employer, you shoulder many of the direct costs (such as medical claims) and the indirect costs (such as absenteeism and lowered productivity) of disorders, diseases, and conditions that afflict your employees.

Research has shown that you can avoid or reduce many of these expenses by providing early behavioral and/or clinical preventive services for your employees. Clinical interventions include immunizations and screenings, as well as follow-up care. Behavioral interventions may include counseling and health promotion programs such as weight management, smoking cessation, and physical activity initiatives.

Beyond improving their personal lives, bettering your employees’ health has two fundamental and practical benefits for the health of your business:

Increased productivity

It is a simple fact that healthy employees are much more likely to be performing at optimal levels than unhealthy employees.

Reduced health care costs

Employees with bad health generate more claim costs and use more health care resources than their healthy peers. Overall, you can expect to save about $3.50 in health care expenses for every dollar you invest in effective health promotion.
Developing a wellness program does not have to be an intimidating task. In fact, you are more likely to be successful if you focus on a few key areas that are interesting to most employees and where results can be significant.

This Work Comp Insights is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.

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