Managing employee safety risks

It is often said that its employees are the most valuable asset a business has, and as a risk manager, protecting people should be your top priority.

As a risk manager, you are broadly responsible for protecting the three ‘Ps’ of your business – its property, its people and its profitability. While these are clearly connected in many cases – for example, having sprinklers in your buildings makes employees safer as well as reducing property risk – protecting your people is the most important of the three due to the human costs involved in any incident.

In many countries around the world, employers’ responsibilities towards employees are covered by state schemes. Two notable exceptions are the UK and the US, where insurance is a statutory requirement for all businesses. Therefore, your focus will be less on having the right insurance cover in place – as this is probably unnecessary or mandatory depending on your location – and more on reducing the likelihood, frequency and severity of accidents, potential health hazards and claims, while also increasing defensibility if they do occur.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 5.5 million working days were lost in the UK due to non-fatal workplace injuries in 2016/2017. How many of these incidents could have been avoided by taking the right risk management approach?

At Zurich we help businesses around the world to identify, understand and manage employee safety risks. We hope that sharing our insights in this article will help you to take a fresh look at your own processes to see if there are any areas where you could make improvements.

Learning from history
A good place to start this fresh look is with historical claims data, which can provide valuable insights and trends into the potential for future problems.

Analysing information on previous incidents for patterns can allow you to prioritise areas for immediate attention. Are claims more prevalent at certain sites? Are some types of injury, illness or incident more common than others? Are specific employee cohorts more exposed to risk or prone to incidents? Having your claims data collected centrally in a consistent format will obviously make this task easier.

Finding answers locally
The more risk data you can collect, the more detailed and accurate a picture you can build up. Ideally, this would involve gathering information on each of your sites. For many businesses, however, this is a challenge due to the sheer numbers involved. For example, the time and costs involved in sending a risk engineering expert to every outlet of a multinational retailer would likely be prohibitive.

However, self-risk assessments, where local management are given guidance on how to survey and record the risks at their own sites, can be a powerful tool for overcoming this issue.

Taking a comprehensive view
Having defined processes in place is fundamental to any effort to manage employee safety risks across your business. Identifying and documenting the way your business handles the following aspects of employee safety will help you to take a methodical and comprehensive approach to risk management:

  • Your health and safety management system – covering how incidents are reported, recorded, managed and learnt from
  • Your commitment and culture for both managing and improving risks – covering employees’ attitudes to health and safety and how it is promoted in the workplace
  • Safety risks in your organisation – covering risks presented by premises, processes and machinery
  • Health risks in your organisation – covering risks presented by hazardous materials and treatments in the workplace environment
  • Claims defensibility in your organisation – covering record-keeping, audit trails and use of CCTV.

How to handle this practically
All of the above might make a lot of sense, but the practical execution across many sites and locations might be a challenging exercise. The solution may be using an app or software that enables risk managers and site managers to carry out self-assessments of employee safety risks, using a proven risk-grading methodology.

This not only makes it more practical to carry out assessments across all sites, it also ensures that the results are directly comparable. By giving a grading to each risk at each site, such an app gives a clear, consistent picture of employee safety risks across the business, enabling you to benchmark them quickly and easily.

The app would guide you through exactly the same questions as a risk professional would use when assessing the location, based on extensive experience built up globally over many years.

Once the assessment is completed, the tool could rate each risk factor and recommend risk improvement actions based on best practice. Having comparable data at your fingertips allows you to identify best practice across your network and make informed decisions about where to focus your risk improvement efforts.

A number of large international companies are benefiting from the time and cost efficiencies of such an app, and we have found that implementation of such a tool in the business can also help to raise awareness and spread the risk management culture across the business.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please email: ian.mcneil@uk.zurich.com

Contributed by Ian McNeil, global head of customer management – risk engineering, Zurich Insurance Company