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No matter what industry you are in, employee safety is a number one priority. According to OSHA, employers pay $1B Dollars per week in workers’ compensation due to accidents in the workplace. These accidents can be caused by, for example, failing to follow the proper safety regulations or forgetting to wear the proper protective gear.For this reason, safety programs have become a vital part of ensuring employees are not injured on the job and resulting in lower workers’ compensation premiums and other costs.

Experts on safety programs call for a “culture of safety”, because safety needs to be engrained in employee behavior. Following the proper safety regulations should not be viewed as another rule but should be part of “how things are done around here” – and I completely agree.

However, safety programs are often based solely on physical safety – their cost is more quantifiable and more visible. As safety incidents increase, insurance premiums and workers’ compensation costs also increase. So, people create programs and develop training with the goal to reduce the number of injuries on the job.

Unfortunately, many organizations and their safety managers forget about the psychological side of safety in the workplace. Toxic work environments are breeding grounds for psychological warfare and abuse that causes lower productivity, higher turnover, and even physical problems resulting in medical costs. For example, workplace bullying has proven to cause a number of physical issues such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide.

In addition to the physical (and quantifiable) problems toxic environments create, employees are distracted and not giving safety the attention, it deserves. The boss walks by and yells, for example, and the worker operates a machine immediately after, thinking mostly of the incident that just occurred rather than safety. Toxic environments also create a culture of fear, and employees who are aware of a safety issue will not likely report it for fear of retaliation. Finally, based on a personal experience consulting for an organization, I know that toxic employees might also use safety as a bullying tactic – this individual required the maintenance team to clean out a 200-degree stove because the client needed their order.

In order to create a culture of safety we must include training and processes for addressing psychologically abusive behavior in addition to the physical safety guidelines already being addressed. Safety is much more than procedures and ensuring the “days with no accidents” sign stays at 0, it’s about making sure employees are thriving at work.

Take a look at your safety program and ask yourself, are sending the right message to your employees? What would the “days with no bullying or harassment” sign read?


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Catherine Mattice Zundel

About Catherine Mattice Zundel

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. . Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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