Establishing a proactive vs reactive safety approach

In the proactive vs reactive safety discussion, it’s clear that you need both strategies for strong EHS performance. Most safety programs tend to be reactive in nature, meaning that companies handle issues as they arise. But how could you transform your operation if you shifted the focus towards preventative measures?

Reactive safety indicators include things like accident investigations, worker’s compensation costs, missed training deadlines, and regulatory citations. Proactive safety indicators include things like workplace safety audits, employee perception surveys, safety training, and near misses.

Below, I’ll discuss the types of safety initiatives and procedures that fall within both approaches. This should give you a better understanding of the differences between the two.

Components of a reactive safety program

While you need to get ahead of incidents before they happen, you might not always be able to. Below are some of the most common elements of a reactive incident management approach. Make sure you incorporate them into your team’s standard work.

Accident investigation: The primary purpose for an accident investigation is to

determine the root cause of the accident and use that to information to prevent future

incidents from occurring. It’s essential—you cannot avoid this even if it’s part of a reactive system.

Worker’s compensation costs: Worker’s compensation insurance works in much the same way as any other insurance company. The more incidents a company has, the more the insurance a company must pay. As a result, higher incident rates typically result in higher insurance premiums.

Missed training deadlines: If your company is providing safety training and employees aren’t attending, then that is an indicator of a larger problem within your organization. Not only can it mean that you might be out of compliance with regulatory agencies, but it may also mean that your employees don’t value safety as much as they should.

Regulatory fines and citations: Focusing on dealing with regulatory fines can easily put you in reactive mode. After all, the better approach would be to avoid citations altogether. If you do receive a fine, you can use that as feedback for making changes to your safety program moving forward.

Proactive safety initiatives and procedures

If you want to establish an incident prevention approach, consider implementing these proactive procedures.

Workplace safety audits: Your company should have a designated person (or team) who

conducts workplace safety audits on a regular basis. They can identify hazards before accidents happen, helping to ensure your compliance with regulatory requirements.

Employee perception surveys: You need to understand how your employees view safety

and what they know about your safety practices and procedures. This information can be

invaluable when trying to develop a proactive safety program. That’s because it allows you to address areas of concern that you might not have otherwise been aware of.

Safety training: Deciding what type of safety training to offer which employees, and on what schedule, can be a daunting task. Regulatory compliance agencies offer some guidance when it

comes to safety training but that should only be your starting point.

Use the data you collect from workplace safety audits, employee perception surveys, and your site’s accident history to develop a training program that best meets your needs.

Near misses: Documenting and investigating near misses can either be categorized as proactive or reactive. Obviously, you don’t want “almost incidents” to happen at all. It’d be better to avoid them altogether.

However, if you take the time to understand why a near miss happened and resolve to fix the variables that contributed to it, you’re taking a proactive approach.

Using both strategies together

The goal is to have a predominantly proactive safety program while maintaining mastery over reactive strategies. One of the best things you can do is to teach your employees hazard recognition and incident prevention strategies during the employment onboarding process.

That, in combination with a comprehensive risk management plan, will help create a dynamic safety approach that balances the preparation of proactive strategies and the standardization of reactive strategies.