Seven Ways to Save on Safety
In this economic climate, saving money is of utmost importance. However, when it comes to safety
- How do you economize without sacrificing your employee's wellbeing?
- How can you develop and maintain a great culture of safety while still focusing on the bottom line?
This is a tightrope walk that every safety professional has to manage - even in a good economy. Many of the ways that you can save money are focused on long term goals, rather than short term savings. Short fixes may help meet this month's budget, but will leave you facing the same issues next month, next year, etc... A combination of short and long term solutions should leave you moving in the right direction today, while helping you obtain future goals within budgetary constraints. Here are a few ideas that should point you in the right direction:
1. Keep a Close Eye on the Lifetime Cost of Your Safety Solution
In addition to the purchase price you need to consider the following costs
- maintenance how much time do I need to spend taking care of this product?
- training how much training time is required to use this product?
- usage how much time does it take the worker to use this solution (e.g. setup, tear down)?
- productivity how is the workers efficiency effected by the solution?
Option A Inexpensive Harness and Anchor Point. ($)
Purchase the least expensive fix for a fall protection hazard: This usually means an inexpensive penetrating anchor point, a low end harness, and a simple lanyard. You may, depending on your scenario, be able to spend only a couple hundred dollars "fixing" the solution.
However, what is the "lifetime cost"?
- First of all, that penetrating anchor point will need to be installed (time).
- It will also need to be maintained to ensure that leaks don't form at the penetrations (time).
- The lanyard that you purchased may be suitable for that anchor point, but it is a fixed length that will restrict its usability on other/future scenarios - leaving you in a position to have to purchase other solutions in the future (time and money).
- Lastly, that "cheap" harness that you purchased may be OSHA or ANSI compliant, but does it allow the worker to move efficiently? Because there is no elasticity to the harness, the worker may be uncomfortable, have a limited range of motion, and perhaps even wear the harness too loosely - potentially causing injuries that could have been avoided.
In total, you saved money on the initial purchase, but will have these additional costs:
- Required daily inspections,
- workers working slowly,
- required maintenance,
- limited re-usability,
- training and retraining,
- greatest risk of injury, and
- high insurance costs.
- There is also a management cost - keeping log books up to date, documenting training, verifying proper use, etc...
- Lastly, these products do not last forever - most have a maximum lifespan of 5 years or until they fail a daily inspection - whichever comes first. Less expensive products typically wear faster than their higher quality counterparts.
Option B Non Penetrating Anchor Point and a High End Harness ($$)
Purchase a "better" fix for a fall protection hazard. This time, you purchase a non-invasive anchor point (one that does not penetrate the roof, steel, or concrete - and can be reused), a rope-grab lifeline (an adjustable lifeline that can keep you from reaching the roofs edge), and a comfortable, mid level harness. This option, depending on your scenario, may be only slightly to significantly more expensive.
However, what is the "lifetime cost"?
- First of all, your anchor point will not need to be maintained - only inspected.
- Your lifeline will give workers tremendous flexibility on the distance they want to be able to move from the anchor point. This will provide flexibility for use in many different scenarios, as well as allowing workers to limit their ability to reach the fall hazard - thus preventing them from ever taking a tumble in the first place.
- The harness will allow for increased comfort and motion. This will translate into a faster worker who has a better range of motion, and will wear the harness tighter (which is safer) - not to mention he/she will be more content complying to your safety standards.
In total, you spent more money, but reduced "lifetime costs".
- daily inspections,
- moderate insurance costs,
- and moderate working speed for employees.
- You will also still have the same management responsibilities as the cheaper solution, but will hopefully not need to spend as much time verifying proper use and encouraging workers to wear equipment properly.
- Workers will work faster,
- increased flexibility with other/future sites,
- lower risk of injury, and lower insurance costs.
- Also, workers will be happier and more interested in the safety culture that you are trying to build.
Option C Install a Passive Guardrail Solution ($$$)
Purchase the "best" fix for a fall protection hazard. This time, you purchase a railing system (non-penetrating if possible). Out of pocket costs will probably be highest with this option, but lifetime costs will be lowest. This is by far the safest solution for most scenarios and will take the least amount of thought and energy once installed. This option eliminates the need for daily inspections, training, and worker interaction. Simply put, a worker will not need to think about the fall hazard at all. Let's look at the cost vs. savings for this option:
- If you purchase a lower end railing (one that is not galvanized or penetrates the surface), you will have some maintenance costs.
- No matter what type of railing you purchase, You will also need to inspect the railing yearly.
- Workers in this scenario will work fastest and be unencumbered.
- Almost no management responsibilities, training, or maintenance (again, if you purchased a good railing).
- Your insurance costs will be lowest and you will have the lowest potential for injury.
- Workers will appreciate not needing to navigate fall hazards - because the hazards will already be prevented.
- There are also ways to save on the initial purchase - we will cover that later.
2. Evaluate the longevity of safety options.
How long will the system that you purchase last? At what point will it need to be repaired/replaced? This will require that you evaluate what materials the products are made from, potential job site damage, and expected lifespan. Here are some examples:
A galvanized railing will last longer than a powder coated, non-galvanized railing. A roof anchor that is galvanized will last longer than one that is not galvanized. A wire retractable will last longer than a webbing retractable. A railing that uses galvanized pipe fittings instead of weld points will be far less susceptible to rust - and yes, last longer.
Potential Job site Damage
Railing will typically take abuse much better than other fall protection products, but still need to be chosen wisely. For instance, railing that will be near heavy machinery or the lifting path of a crane, may become damaged. If the railing was welded, the cost of repairs may be significant. If it was a modular railing, the expense can be minimal.
Another example to consider: products made out of webbing (harnesses, some lanyards, some anchor points) will show wear much more quickly than products made out of metal. A webbing retractable or lanyard may be a less expensive option than a stainless steel cable, but will it stand up to the conditions on your job site over the course of the time?
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Will the unit potentially be walked on? Will it be used by or around welders?
- Are there corrosive substances that may come into contact with the fall protection?
- Will it be rubbing against any abrasive surfaces?
Questions like these should lead you towards choosing the right material. On the same note, evaluate how the worker will view the particular safety equipment that you provide for him. If you purchase the cheapest harness you can get your hands on, it will probably end up being tossed in the back of a pickup truck with other tools. If you get one that is more comfortable, it may actually find its way to a hook or hanger.
Most active fall protection - harnesses, lanyards, retractables, anchor points, lifelines, etc... have a maximum manufacturer's lifespan of 5 years from the date that the unit goes into service (note the tag that is on almost every piece of equipment). However, some units require extra attention. For instance, most retractables have a 5 year life span, but need to be recertified every 2 years. Vacuum anchor systems typically need to be re-certified once a year. On the other hand, railing will have the longest potential lifespan. A galvanized, modular railing system - with no weld points or ground penetrations - may last 20, 30, 40 years or more.
By purchasing with longevity in mind, you can save significant costs in the long run.
3. Look for alternative purchasing options.
Are there ways to purchase a better system without compromising your cash flow? Some companies have the ability to lease products to you. For example: let's say that you want to purchase a large railing system for a few roofs at your facility. The cost of the railing is 50k. Budgets are tight, so releasing that much cash right now is difficult or impossible. However, leasing the railing over 5 years will allow you to pay a small amount out of your safety budget every month and provide your company with a valuable write off for 5 years. Unlike a bank loan, leasing typically expands your financial resources while offering better terms than a bank can offer you. At the end of the term you will end up owning the products to keep your works safe - without compromising the commodity that is of utmost importance right now: cash.
4. Take advantage of monthly specials and quantity discounts.
Whenever purchasing, ask if there are discounts for purchasing at certain levels. If you work for a larger company with different branches, or even simply know others in the safety industry, network with others to purchase together. Safety supply companies will appreciate the opportunity to expose themselves to other branches/companies and you will potentially save money by purchasing in a larger quantity than usual. Think of it as a co-op for safety.
5. Open yourself to new ideas.
The safety industry has evolved tremendously in the past few years. New technology is constantly being introduced to both the construction industry and general industry. Whether it is new products or old products made safer, lighter, or more user-friendly, there are many opportunities out there for you to streamline and save. Present the specifics of your job site/facility to a safety consultant and see if there are other products out there that you could be using. It is amazing how often people are using the wrong product for the job, or simply using the right product incorrectly. Using the right product for the job will at least make the job safer and more efficient - which is always less expensive than the alternative.
6. Consider alternative building products.
Think outside the box when planning a project. This may mean outsourcing what you would normally do in-house, or doing in-house what you would normally outsource. Let me supply a couple of examples:
Let's say that you want to build a railing. The "typical" way to build a railing would be to hire a welder/fabrication shop to make one for you. This is true because not every business has a fabrication shop to produce their own, nor does every company have the skilled labor necessary to put it together. One alternative would be to produce a "non-welded, modular railing." Most modular railings will have the same strength of a welded solution, but require none of the skilled labor, permits, planning, time, or tools that a welded rail would need. This often will save you money up front, and it will allow you keep all of the labor expenses in house.
Let's look at the other side of the same coin. On any job site (both in the general and construction industry), you have a pretty good chance of spotting a "homemade" fall protection solution. From a piece of rope purchased at the local hardware store that is now tied to someone's harness, rebar that was bent to make an anchor point, to a flag line that looks like it was stolen from a used car dealer. I am sure you have seen (and maybe constructed) a non-engineered safety solution. Not all of them are ridiculous, but they all share one thing in common: you take all of the liability of a workers life on your shoulders. Engineered safety solutions absorb the liability of the hazard for you - as long as they are used properly. This is both safe, and keeps money in your pocket. First of all, insurance companies love them - which means lower premiums. Secondly - OSHA loves them - which means lower (hopefully no) fines. As a bonus, in an effort to protect themselves and you, manufacturers also overbuild most solutions to make certain that no one will be hurt because one failed.
7. Organize your safety department.
Let's face it. The most expensive hazard to a company is an accident. Lost time, lost morale, lawsuits, fines, medical expenses, and potentially someone's life are just a few of the ways that accidents affect your business. Minimize and eliminate hazards by being effective and organized when it comes to safety.
- Do regular training,
- keep up to date log books,
- perform daily reminders (toolbox meetings),
- have regular self-assessments,
- keep gear inspected and clean,
- know the regulations and the products available to you, and
- connect yourself to others in the industry who are doing the same.
These are just a few of the ways that you can begin to create an effective, efficient safety culture that saves lives and money.
Safety, for any company, can become an arduous, necessary evil that gets in the way of what you are really trying to accomplish. Instead, it should be a value and culture in your company that minimizes costs, improves morale, and places a sense of value on the individual that can so easily be forgotten. We want to be most concerned for the lives of those around us as well as our own. These were just a few ways to save money in this economy, but hopefully also a few ways to value the wellbeing of your workers - and see that they are all sent home safely every day.