Companies around the world are doubling their cultural efforts in a unique and challenging labor market. This is especially the case when it comes to placing a heightened emphasis on safer working conditions and practices. What’s driving this shift? Employee turnover and attrition.
The Great Resignation has left a void in many organizational charts, opening the door for potential injury risks and safety hazards. As companies continue to ramp up their recruitment efforts, they are likely to attract candidates from different industries. Additionally, boomerang employees who left during the onset of the pandemic may now be re-entering the workforce without recent experience or training. These factors are safety red flags.
We tend to see that employees are more likely to get injured in their first year of employment, and in their final years of work. This directly correlates to the traditional ‘bathtub curve’ used to describe the typical equipment failure rate against time.
There is a slight dip and flattening of injury risk in the middle part of a worker’s career before it scales back up as they near retirement.
Statistics from Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) bear this out. OSHA statistics report that 40 percent of workers who are injured have been on the job less than a year. On the other side of the curve, older workers were more likely to be fatally injured on the job.
So, Who’s Quitting?
A 2021 study by the Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates were highest among mid-career employees. Employees between 30 and 45 years old had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to the report. Which means that our safest workers are the workers we are most likely to lose! Think back to our failure curve commentary above. This trend of mid-career workers leaving the workforce is likely to have lasting impacts on safety performance if action isn’t taken.
These workers traditionally represent the lowest volume of injuries on our payroll due to the institutional and task specific knowledge they have accrued over time.
In working with over 1,000 companies globally and managing the safety, reliability, and maintenance of more than two million energized assets per year, we have helped many organizations shift the way they govern safety in the workplace.
We have also acquired a deep understanding of the practices most likely to garner success. Here are a few “quick wins” we have found pivotal in the short-term, while a long-term strategy for safety excellence is built.
Quick Win #1: Safety Should Be Integrated, Not Isolated
Too often safety is a disparate function, separated from everyday operational functions. Internal safety organizations have often been considered speed bumps to progress on major projects involving inherent risk.
The challenges of the current labor market necessarily require that we push safety to the fore. All recruiting, onboarding, coaching, and on-the-job training should anchor in understanding the organization’s safety goals, programs, expectations, and available resources.
Enhanced education on hazard awareness and risk communications is especially beneficial for employees in that critical first year of work. What do we know about new employees? They are eager to impress, and they are less likely to communicate safety concerns than more established professionals.
We must take control of our risk communications approach to prevent this problem from becoming the norm.
Quick Win #2: Introduce Psychological Safety
With the Great Resignation will come a Great Return of employees. Regardless of the work environment, but especially in high-risk environments, figuring out how to manage workers’ safety has become one of the biggest pandemic-induced challenges facing companies.
Let’s start by looking at what drove their exit in the first place. Many employees left their jobs because they didn’t feel appreciated by their employers.
In one analysis published in the MIT Sloan Management Review earlier this year, researchers reported that most turnover was driven by toxic work cultures. The study’s researchers found this factor to be 10 times more important than pay in predicting turnover.
Enter the importance of psychological safety. If people don’t feel supported, engaged, and safe, why would they work for us?
Being exposed to injury risk and feeling like their supervisors aren’t providing adequate training, guidance, and support will accelerate worker disengagement. For a quick win, we need to start implementing regular gap assessments to determine how well prepared for work employees feel and use the data to influence future changes. Workers can help identify any immediate hazards that need to be addressed, and they’ll appreciate being part of the process.
Quick Win #3: Minimize Unplanned Work Activity
It’s well understood that unplanned work increases the likelihood of injury or risk on the job.
High employee turnover leads to less consistent maintenance, which then cascades into reliability issues and uptime challenges. This inherently produces more unplanned work. And that unplanned work causes increase exposure to hazards – and so the cycle continues.
One way to fix this quickly is to ensure risk assessment is baked into all systems, process, and work planning. Have we ensured our safety professionals have a daily dialogue with their production and maintenance peers about priorities and issues?
Do we have the resources required to carry out daily maintenance activities or are we falling behind on our punch list? Are we analyzing safety data and translating it into training improvements, or are we simply trying to keep our head above water due to lack of staffing?
OSHA reports that approximately 55 percent of surveyed facility managers use a reactive approach to maintenance.4 This can lead to unexpected breakdowns and emergency unplanned work that may throw unqualified workers into dangerous situations.
Quick Win #4: Ensure Safety Partners with Others
Ultimately, if we are to protect employees—new, existing, FTE or contractors—we need to have a true partnership-based approach to safety. That starts with safety professionals having a deep engagement in all aspects of how the organization functions—recruiting, onboarding, training, supervision, hazard awareness, production planning, maintenance scheduling … the list goes on.
We should have a corrective actions list based on a thorough assessment of the heightened risk employee turnover creates, where that risk manifests itself and how best to mitigate it. This process will necessarily take our safety professionals into some unfamiliar territory as they engage in understanding a much broader range of issues related to the functioning of the organization.
Safety awareness should be a welcome change for organizations. We need to embrace the shift and make it an immediate strategic focus to improve overall working conditions and enhance our chances of retaining top talent in 2022 and beyond.