Understanding the Importance of Off-the-Job Safety

George KennedyEach year, the number of workers killed in off-the-job accidents exceeds the number killed at work by a multiple of more than 10. And as many as 15 million workers are injured off-the-job each year. This means your employees have a greater chance of being injured or killed at home or during leisure activities than while at work.

Some managers believe that what happens to workers when they are not working is none of their business — but it is. Off-the-job injuries that result in lost time by your workers directly impacts your operations. Just think about it for a minute. What if your superintendent or project manager was injured performing some project around the house and would not be able to return to work for three or four days — even worse three or four weeks or months? How would that affect your business? What if your best operator, welder or mechanic was out of work for several weeks? The fact is that lost work time due to an accident on or off the job affects companies in many ways that may or may not be obvious.

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Any accident or illness can affect production, work quality, job costs and even morale. Every time someone is out of work, especially an experienced worker, for any period of time that was not planned for, efficiency and production are affected. It does not matter where the accident happened; the crew is still short a supervisor or worker until the employee returns or is replaced — someone has to pick up the slack.

There are also costs associated with worker injuries. These arise from the need to train a worker who is replacing an injured one, the reduced productivity of a once well-organized crew adjusting to a replacement crew member, overtime to make up for that lost productivity and possibly project delays and penalties. A severe off-the-job injury or illness can increase the company’s medical and disability insurance premiums.

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Safety off the job is as important to your company as it is to your employees and their families. If your company has an effective safety program in place, it does not take much to go one step further to include off-the-job safety information and training. In fact, providing this important information is often only a matter of adding a few lines to a discussion about safety or a training program. When Toolbox Talks and safety training sessions include off-the-job safety messages, they help employees think about accident prevention beyond the workplace. Those messages can be used to remind workers that injuries suffered off the job can affect them just as much as one sustained at work. Hopefully, they will carry the message with them, share it with their families and friends and apply what they have learned about safety at home and elsewhere.

Employees respect managers who show their concern for workers’ well-being both on and off the job. Urging employees to apply the same safety practices at home and during leisure activities as they do at work promotes not only their own health and welfare, but that of their family members, who will follow the example the employees are setting. By reminding workers that safety is an integral part of their life both on and off the job, you are sending a message that their safety — and that of their families — is important to you and the company.

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When discussing safety practices that are followed at work, don’t hesitate to extend the conversation beyond the jobsite and try to show that the company is sincerely concerned for workers’ safety both on and off the job. Encourage foremen and supervisors to be advocates of on- and off-the-job safety, because they may hear more than you will about what is going on in an employee’s life at home. For example, the foreman may hear that the worker is planning to do some house painting over the weekend, which would be a good time to remind the employee to remember what he or she has learned about ladder safety. A ladder used off the job can be just as dangerous as one used on the job.

When discussing off the job safety, the following subjects may be appropriate:

Slips, trips and falls. Falls from an elevation are the leading cause of fatal accidents in the workplace and around the home. Workers use ladders to paint their homes, change light bulbs, clean their gutters, prune trees, or in leisure settings like a tree stand for hunting. No matter where ladders are used, they should be in good condition, well maintained, set up properly and secure. Slips and trips occur when spills are not cleaned up, toys and other objects are left laying on floors and steps and where uneven surfaces exist.

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Personal protective equipment. Boating, scuba diving, cycling, shooting, horseback riding, etc., all require some form of PPE. Without the proper equipment and the knowledge necessary to use it properly, employees and their families take a needless risk. Remind them that PPE needs to be used both inside and outside the work environment.

Fire prevention and safety. The same concerns about handling and storing flammables and combustibles apply at home as on the job. Flammables and combustibles should be stored in either their original containers or those designed to handle the materials, and they should be stored in a safe place away from sources of ignition like stoves or gas-fired hot water heaters. Other fire hazards include fireplaces, wood stoves and electric wires. It goes without saying that matches and lighters should be kept away from children. Remind employees to test and replace smoke alarm batteries, inspect fire extinguishers regularly and develop and practice a family emergency escape plan.

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Driving safety. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace and off-the-job fatalities. Companies that operate fleets of vehicles generally offer some form of defensive driving programs to workers who operate company vehicles. Why not open these training sessions so they include all workers and maybe even family members who would like to attend? It also makes sense to occasionally provide defensive driving messages to all employees.

Back care. Back injuries are the No. 1 cause of time-lost incidents. Regardless of where a worker’s back injury occurs, he or she will often lose time as a result of it. Teaching construction workers how to prevent back injuries makes sense. Why not take a little extra time to discuss situations they may encounter at home and during recreation that can cause back injuries?

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In addition to training and educating workers about safety, companies can do other things to promote and encourage off-the-job safety. For example, payroll stuffers can be used to extend safety messages into the homes of employees. Providing copies of a Toolbox Talk is another way. Some companies even go to the extent of having a family safety day or picnic to share the on- and off-the-job safety message with employees and family. Having a spouse or child remind an employee to wear his or her PPE, to check the ladder before climbing or to be careful usually registers loud and clear with the employee.

The loss of experienced personnel through accident or injury affects a company in many ways. No matter how you get the message out, it is important for employees to understand that working safely is extremely important on the job, but working and playing safely off the job is too. Let your employees know that you want them to be safe 24/7 because you care.

George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.