Making Big Differences at Small Businesses

We can make communities safer by working with local employers.

Colin Duncan is an executive with 25 years of professional experience. He has served as CEO of safety consulting companies BST, Dekra Insight and process safety specialist Chilworth.

​Here's a sobering statistic: More than 4,000 people die at work in the United States every year. That's more than 10 deaths a day. More than 4.7 million workers are injured, a significant proportion seriously enough to prevent them from returning to work, or their normal lives. And despite everything we know about how to avoid injuries, the trend is upward. 

I have had the pleasure to work with many talented safety professionals in large corporations over the years. Yet for all the hard work and energy that these professionals commit, there is a frustrating reality: 90% of Americans work for small companies with less than 20 employees, and reaching these workers and their management is a difficult task with such a dispersed workforce. To continue making progress in safety, we must create a new form of outreach, one that recognizes this dynamic and engages with small businesses across the U.S. We need to help small companies learn from the people and organizations that have invested heavily in learning what being safe is all about.

Despite what we sometimes hear in the media, employers DO CARE about their people. We should remember that most small businesses are right in the heart of their communities, and many of them are highly visible. If something bad happens we can be quite sure they are held "socially" accountable. Moreover, these small company owners hire friends and neighbors, often across generations. They are committed to the safety of their staff in the same way that we each care about the safety of our respective friends and neighbors.

So, how do we help extend our advances in workplace safety to affect the entire American workplace? In many respects the concept is simple. For a small company, the likelihood of a serious event may be low within their employee base. So, it's hard to drive action by focusing there alone. However, almost all of us, through little more than one degree of separation, know of or will know of someone who is killed or seriously injured as the result of a preventable incident outside the workplace. In recent years, many large employers have learned that their safety programs need to extend to their employees' safety outside work. They have adopted "work safe, home safe" type initiatives.

I believe that most small companies in the U.S. are run by managers who care, who may well have had such a personal experience, directly or indirectly, and who would embrace the opportunity to make their communities safer. These business owners want to know how to protect the lives and well-being of those very friends, neighbors and families they see every day at their kids' high school, at the town Friday night football game or in the local grocery store.

If we encourage large employers to engage with the small employers within their communities to share safety knowledge for the workplace and beyond, we can change the very culture of these communities. Partnerships across the U.S. with national and local resources, including local EMS or other stakeholders, can share knowledge and tools to help create a different dialogue about safety. The Council's Journey to Safety Excellence program offers a variety of resources that can help businesses large or small prevent injuries and save lives. Through partnerships, sharing best practices and having more discussions about safety, we can make our communities AND our workplaces safer. The Council's Safe Communities program also offers invaluable tools.

As we enter National Safety Month in June, we all should find ways to share the many resources and tools available with those who need them, so they can make our world safer.

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