While effective safety programs are vital for public agencies, they may miss valuable opportunities for management, communication and training. At the 2023 California JPIA Risk Management Educational Forum, California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) Senior Risk Manager Tim Karcz highlighted five common mistakes agencies make in developing and managing their safety programs.
“Safety management can vary widely. In some cases, it’s very procedural; in others, it’s very specific to the exposure. This can result in many missed opportunities,” said Karcz.
1. Karcz explained that the first mistake is assuming that anyone can oversee safety. Proper safety program management requires the responsible individual to understand the job, care about people and communicate effectively. Safety managers should not only possess knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations but also know where to access relevant information.
While it’s crucial to have individuals who understand the job, expertise in safety may not be limited to individuals with a specific job title. Safety also requires collaboration, involving input from various departments and teams.
“Safety leadership is also crucial. Managing safety programs is not a one-size-fits-all approach. But leadership and management styles affect employee perception and reaction to safety differently,” said Karcz.
2. Another common mistake is believing safety management is only implementing policies, conducting training sessions and providing personal protective equipment (PPE). These elements are essential, but they are often the result of a thorough risk assessment. Safety management is a process: identify exposures by task, identify compliance requirements, conduct risk assessments and choose how to manage.
“Neglecting to conduct proper risk assessments can lead to inadequate safety measures that fail to address specific hazards effectively,” said Karcz.
3. The third mistake agencies make is believing that the absence of injuries equals safety—the lack of accidents doesn’t mean the existence of safety. Safety goes beyond mere absence; it’s about proactive prevention. Constant vigilance is crucial to maintain a safe workplace. Statistics show that only 15 percent of accidents result from unsafe conditions, while unsafe acts cause a staggering 85 percent.
“For every 300 unsafe acts that happen, 29 result in near misses or require first aid, while one leads to a serious injury or fatality,” said Karcz. “This is the world we’re living in if we aren’t paying attention to safety, doing risk assessments and managing safety well enough.”
Near misses should be handled by sharing what a near miss is, helping identify near misses, discussing near misses in staff meetings or tailgate discussions, sharing ideas for documentation and reporting back to the safety coordinator.
4. Similarly, agencies often believe outsourcing a task voids the responsibility of safety compliance; this is not always the case. It depends on the scenario. When more than one employer is present at a worksite, Cal/OSHA considers it a multi-employer worksite. Cal/OSHA thinks of it like this: All employers must work together to identify and control hazards; property owners and project owners have the same responsibility for safety; and when safety violations are cited, Cal/OSHA will evaluate the owner and employer hierarchy to determine who is responsible.
“To ensure compliance with Cal/OSHA,” said Karcz, “choose responsible contractors, know where the agency’s responsibility ends and where their responsibility begins, ensure known hazards are discussed, provide relevant procedures and require in the contract that they adhere to all standards and safety requirements.”
5. The last common mistake is not adhering to an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, as outlined in California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 3203. The program mandates that agencies establish roles and responsibilities for safety, communicate hazards, investigate accidents and train employees. For example, an Injury and Illness Prevention Program could involve designating safety officers, conducting regular safety meetings and documenting hazards identified in the workplace.
“The common mistakes described shouldn’t be looked at as mistakes but as opportunities for improvement,” said Karcz.
Developing and managing safety programs is a complex but vital task. By avoiding these common mistakes or identifying where an agency may be lacking in safety management, agencies can create a safer environment for their employees, reduce the risk of accidents and mitigate potential legal and financial liabilities. Safety is a collective responsibility that requires constant vigilance, proactive measures and open communication.
About the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority
Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 120 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive training and loss control services. For more information, please visit the California JPIA’s website at cjpia.org.