Sometimes you may have the luxury of working for a company that says, “Safety? Whatever you need, you get.” However, that is certainly not always the case. More often than not, you will need to work within a budget to meet your safety needs. While it’s nice to say that safety is of the utmost importance, therefore cost should never matter, the reality is that a company is in business to make money and if they’re not doing that, they won’t be around for very long.
When faced with the idea of meeting a budget, it’s important that you plan well to avoid being out of funds when something critical arises. Sure, you could try to “wing it”, and as long as you hit no major hiccups you could be fine, but if you misstep, the results could be disastrous.
As you have probably guessed, I’m not the biggest fan of the “wing it” methodology. My suggestion? Plan ahead. There are a number of things you will easily know a year out. For example, which training courses are you required to provide to your employees annually? What medical surveillance needs to occur each year? What PPE do you need to keep in stock? What subscriptions and dues are you required to maintain?
Answering these questions could give you a good foundation for what you intend to spend over the upcoming year. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to figure in turnover or expansion. If you account for training based on the current size of your company, but your company intends to increase the workforce by 25% over the course of the year, you are going to fall short. In the same scenario, if you based your PPE needs on the averages of the prior few years when your workforce was smaller, your numbers aren’t going to work. It’s important to know the company’s plans and how they will affect yours.
All that being said, you can never account for every possibility, but you can use all of the information available to you to come up with a sound estimate.
There are a number of ways to satisfy your training requirements for the year, the most cost-effective of which would be for you to handle training internally. First, though, you need to ask yourself if this is feasible. Are you, or is somebody in your company, qualified to teach your employees what is necessary? Perhaps you can teach Hazard Communication just fine, but need to bring somebody in to do your Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response courses. If so, you’ll need to account for the 3rd-party trainer in your budget. Is your budget tight? Maybe you want to look at some online training (Side Note: I personally believe that online training cannot compare to real-world training and the interaction that occurs with a qualified, experienced instructor, but online training certainly can serve a purpose when you have financial restrictions).
If money is a concern, it doesn’t hurt to weigh the cost of taking a train-the-trainer cost (for instance, for such things as First Aid/CPR/AED or the OSHA Outreach 10 and 30 Hour courses) versus bringing somebody in. When making this decision, though, you also need to factor in the value of your time. How much training will you be doing? How invasive will it be into the rest of what you are trying to accomplish? Is it better to be in the field and office concerning yourself with other issues while your employees cycle through classes with a third party trainer? In other words, if you are tied up in training, does that prevent other important things from getting done?
There are definitely tricks to stretching your budget when it comes to purchasing PPE and other equipment. In my opinion, skimping on quality isn’t one of them. Look, a $30 full-body harness that meets ANSI requirements is going to, by definition, perform exactly the same as a $250 full-body harness that meets ANSI requirements, but there’s a reason for the price difference. Whether it’s comfort, additional functionality, or some other reason, you’re sacrificing something to pay the lower price. And, if it’s comfort, you’ve just made enforcement 1000x harder. That’s not to say you need to spend $250 per harness, but make sure you know what you’re getting before you purchase. Also, the key above is that they both meet ANSI standards. Don’t be fooled by junk that makes its way to market. Look for the ANSI standard numbers listed on the label or stamped into the equipment.
If you have the opportunity to buy in bulk, do it. You will receive discounts. However, even if you can’t buy in bulk, getting a representative with a supplier will often result in getting prices you can’t get off the website or in a store.
Wants vs. Needs
At some point, you have to determine what you want versus what you need and they definitely aren’t always the same. Again, we’d all like to think that safety budgets should be unlimited but we need to work within the resources available to us. Perhaps you’ve always splurged on fancy brand-name safety glasses that run you $10-$15/pair. Well, it could be time to drop that down a notch, especially since you can probably find similar ones for less than $5/pair. Do you turn every safety meeting into a two-day affair with breakfast and lunch? Perhaps you need to look at if that is necessary. Sure, we all want to keep our employees happy, but if you’re pressed for money, then maybe requiring students to bring lunch isn’t the end of the world or perhaps there’s just a less expensive way to feed them, rather than eliminating food altogether.
There are many tools out there now that can help make you much more efficient in your work. While you may look at some of them as an extra expense, what does it save you in your time or in money that bleeds out unnoticed because it’s in drips and drabs? One example is an online SDS service. Sure, you have to pay for a subscription, but how much time are you spending trying to make sure that you always have the most up-to-date SDS? Most online services push new versions out to you as they become available. And, if you’re not spending much time doing it, is your SDS book compliant? Is it current? Tools like this can make you more efficient, saving your company money.
Training tracking software is another tool that may have some up-front costs but can save you a ton of time down the road. If you’re using simple spreadsheets, not only do you have to spend time maintaining them, but you need to manually search to see who needs training refreshers and doing that way makes it easy to miss things. Make sure you know what tools and technology are available to you so that your time and energy isn’t spent in the wrong places.
Budgets aren’t easy, and they certainly aren’t as much fun as being able to spend what you want when you want, but there’s no denying they’re a necessary evil. Don’t go into them blind. Research, prioritize, and plan ahead. You don’t always need more dollars, you just need to be able to get more out of the ones you already have.