In Brief

  • Successful OSH professionals are more than coaches and advisors, they are also trainers, teachers and learners.

  • Dedicating time to shadow supervisors and to learn employees' jobs helps OSH professionals speak their language and build trusting relationships and strong alliances.

  • Treating frontline employees like company owners, allowing outside companies to tour the facility/organization and making before-and-after videos of safety improvements are examples of meaningful and tested ways that OSH professionals can create greater employee buy-in to safety initiatives.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2016), 4,836 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2015. Stated differently, 13 American workers are tragically and unnecessarily taken from their families every day. These statistics underscore the urgent need for safer workplaces.

When the author joined the safety and health department of his former employer, he knew the company was facing some tough OSH-related challenges. To say that the employer was in deep trouble was an understatement. A few weeks after the author's arrival at the Flint, MI, manufacturing plant, the trouble signs were too many to miss.

The 700-person, round-the-clock plant was operating at an anemic 49% efficiency, while corporate management expected a minimum efficiency of 85%. The plant also had an OSHA incidence rate of 12.6 (3.5 points higher than the industry average), high turnover, high workers' compensation costs and a strained relationship with Michigan-OSHA (MIOSHA).

Hourly workers voiced persistent criticism of virtually every aspect of the plant, and of safety and health in particular. No matter what plant management did, it could not shake the perception that it was indifferent to employees' safety and health. In addition, several OSHA citations originating from employee complaints led MIOSHA to put the plant on its radar. The persistent OSH-related problems (e.g., ergonomics, machine guarding, housekeeping, lockout/tagout) not only were detrimental to productivity, quality and employee morale, but also had resulted in turnover of OSH professionals. The author was the plant's third OSH professional in less than a year.

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