Workplace injuries have a devastating effect on companies, workers, and employee families. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers suffer workplace injuries at a rate of 109 per 10,000 employees a year, with an average of eight days lost per injury. Surprisingly, rates were the highest for workers over the age of 45 and amongst workers with more than five years of experience – workers assumed to be well-versed in workplace safety procedures.
In a similar study, the National Safety Council reports that American companies lose $198 billion each year due to workers’ compensation costs. This is a staggering figure and one that emphasizes the significant impact to company productivity and profitability.
Since the establishment of OSHA more than 40 years ago, American companies have made significant advances in workplace safety, improving the well-being of employees. During the first three decades, workplace injuries fell rapidly; however, the rate of decline slowed considerably in the last ten years. One of the reasons for the stagnation is the failure of traditional communication methods to convey and reinforce safe practices to workers, as these methods do not address the new nature of the modern workforce. In order to promote a culture of safety, companies must establish new safety protocols and adopt better methods of communication to get their messages across to employees.
Business leaders today face two sets of unique challenges with regard to safety communication and reinforcement.
1. Traditional Safety Communications— Workplace safety starts with the
right training and communication; but, traditional methods have
inconsistent or limited impact.
Email: We’ve come a long way since the days of hearing that tiny
computer voice say, “You’ve got mail.” Nowadays, inboxes fill up in a
matter of hours, and it seems like we’re spending half the day reading
and responding to emails. When companies send safety tips to
employees via email, the message often gets lost in the shuffle or are
Seminars or Coaching: An employee training session once every few
months or even a reminder talk before a shift provides a chance to
stress safety reminders and updates. Companies can be relatively sure
employees hear the message since they are in the room, but even
these sessions have drawbacks. First, companies can’t be sure that
employees are actively listening and that messages are being received.
Second, pep talks are typically effective before or immediately after
meeting, but safety tips may soon be forgotten as concerns about
daily work take over.
Computer Training Courses: E-learning is a growing part of
company training and is frequently being used to enable employees to
learn more about their jobs, including workplace safety. These
programs are great training tools, but they suffer from the same issue
as seminars. They often do not provide recurring updates or engage
employees post training to maintain awareness of key safety practices
2. The Modern Workforce— Today’s workforce is different than it was just
a generation ago, and safety training works best when aligned with the
communication needs and methods used by employees.
Decentralized Staff: It’s possible for managers to go days or weeks
without seeing or hearing from all of their staff, either because they’re
working in the field, from home, or at a different office. This creates a
problem when managers want to talk about safety in the workplace,
because only a fraction of their employees hear the message when in
the office. The result is an investment in time and money to give
multiple training sessions or forcing employees to leave productive
tasks in the field to travel to another location for a safety talk.
Turnover: Employee turnover is approaching the highest rates in
history. Much of this has to do with the influx of Millennials into the
workplace and their constant desire for change. More than 85 percent
of workers under 30 have held their job for less than five years, and
the average worker will change jobs between 10 and 15 times during
their working lives. High rates of turnover, and the need for temporary
workers to fill the employment void, creates a situation where staff is
always new to company protocols and must be integrated into the
company’s specific safety culture.
Knowledge Retention: No matter how good a training program is,
employees lose information over time. As they forget the details of
safety training, they become more likely to suffer a workplace injury.
Refreshers are necessary to keep safety tips top of mind for
Though the challenges seem great, there is a simple solution to strengthen a company’s safety culture: the integration of digital communications technology into a workplace safety program. The use of digital signs and “always on” desktop communication solutions overcome the workplace safety communication challenges through “the four R’s”: reach, relevance, repetition, and reminders.
1. Reach: In order for a company’s safety messaging to be effective, it must
be seen by the staff, and digital signs and enhanced desktop solutions
make this possible. Instead of forcing employees to come to a computer or
training session, digital signs bring the message directly to the staff. Signs
in the break room, on the production floor, or in the hallway will be seen
by employees several times a day, constantly exposing them to the safety
reminders. In and of itself, digital signage is engaging with 63 percent of
people reporting that it catches their attention. In addition, digital signs in
multiple locations can be updated simultaneously, so workers at Plant A
and Plant B both receive consistent updated training messages in real
time. A new generation of digital signage desktop communication tools can
also enhance reach by providing “always on” displays of pertinent
information versus requiring the user to read an email or open a file.
2. Relevance: Manufacturing, field service and distribution center employees
have very different needs concerning safety in the workplace. Operators
may need reminders about equipment safety, while employees in a
warehouse might benefit from reminders regarding forklift movement,
balancing heavy items or other best practices. Through digital signage,
companies can tailor safety tips to be relevant to the employees who read
the sign. Rather than being bombarded by messages that have no
significance to their work, teams knows that every tip they see applies to
their job, and that they should pay attention.
3. Repetition: Knowledge retention is the biggest hurdle in training, and the
best way to ensure retention is through repetition of ideas. Digital signs
provide constant mini refreshers of important information that might also
be covered through other training avenues, and helps employees maintain
safe work practices long after their training is over.
4. Reminders: Digital signs are but one part of a visual communications
solution. Another critical component is the ability to send desktop and
mobile reminders to staff in the field or even at home. For example,
companies can send messages to a field supervisor’s mobile device,
prompting the supervisor to conduct a visual inspection of employee safety
equipment. Messages could also be sent to front line staff, reminding them
to clean their goggles before they come to the facility or to take necessary
safety precautions in certain situations.
Digital signage is a rapidly emerging solution to traditional safety communication challenges. It enables companies to more effectively reach employees with timely and relevant safety messaging and leads to fewer incidents, higher productivity and happier employees.
Steve Chang, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Solutions. Chang oversees the strategic direction and expansion of RMG Networks Intelligent Visual Communications solutions. His focus is to accelerate the introduction of new business solutions that drive tangible value for customers across a variety of markets.