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Effective Recommendations Sell Safety

Science of Persuasion


Once you have developed solutions that describe engineering and/or administrative controls to eliminate or reduce injuries/illnesses, the next task is to convince or persuade management to make changes: that's the goal of the good recommendation. You may perceive corrective actions as immediate needs, but management may see them as planned events. Your challenge is to help them develop informed perceptions.

Most likely, management will understand the importance of taking corrective action and readily agree to you ideas. However, if your management team doesn't quite understand the benefits derived from an aggressive proactive approach to workplace safety, the likelihood of success decreases. If that's the case where you work, the ability to present effective recommendations is all that more important. This module will help you learn how to present "an offer they can't refuse," by emphasizing the long-term bottom-line benefits of the solutions you are recommending.

Why Decision-Makers Don't Respond Quickly

A good recommendation sells safety.

When the decision-maker does not act on a recommendation, it's usually because he or she may not have enough information to make a decision. To speed up the process and to improve the approval rate, you must learn to anticipate the questions that the decision-maker will ask in order to sign off on the requested change. This being the case, the more pertinent information you can include in the presentation, the more likely the recommendation will be approved. Remember, the primary purpose of a recommendation is to persuade.

To develop effective recommendations, perform the following key steps:

1. Write the Problem Statement

Based on the work you did in the problem-solving phase, you should be able to write a clear statement of the problem. The decision-maker must be able to clearly understand exactly what the problem is. Be sure you describe:

  • Surface causes: Are the hazardous conditions and related unsafe behaviors that have directly or indirectly caused an accident. Hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors also represent the final outputs or effects of a safety management system (SMS) that may have somehow failed.

  • Root causes: Are the inadequate or missing system elements such as resources, programs, plans, policies, processes, procedures, rules that contribute to the hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors? These point to even deeper root causes in safety management system structure, design and development. Examples of problem statements:

    • Condition: “Five ladders in the warehouse are defective.”
    • Behavior: “Most employees at the worksite are not reporting injuries to supervisors.”
    • System: “The safety training plan does not include lockout/tagout training.”

Key Steps (Continued)

2. Describe the history of the problem.

  • Describe the history of previous hazards and system failures. A history of past hazards, behaviors, or accidents indicates an increased probability that a future accident may occur. An established trend is a strong indicator of SMS weaknesses. Of course, the lack of a previous similar condition, incident or accident does not mean it won't negatively impact the company in the future: It could be that you've just been lucky so far.

  • Note: To establish a valid trend, you'll need to analyze data from at least seven points in time: could be seven days, weeks, months, years. It all depends on the kind of data you are analyzing. For instance, if you are trying to establish a trend related to the number of strains and sprains, depending on how often those injuries occur, you might have to look at seven months or seven years.

  • Describe how past similar hazards affected direct (budgeted, insured) accident costs. Direct costs of accidents include workers compensation premiums and miscellaneous medical expenses. The employer will pay this (on average) over a number of years in increased workers compensation premiums. It's no different than car have an accident, and it's your fault (compensable), your insurance goes up.

  • Describe how past similar hazards have affected indirect costs. Indirect costs are immediate costs that come right out of the corporate pocketbook. Indirect costs include additional training, replacement workers, lost production (closing the plant down), increased supervision, etc.

Key Steps (Continued)

3. State the solution options that would correct the problem.

It's important to present options from which the decision-maker may choose. Options give the decision-maker greater control by allowing him or her to choose from a number of solutions rather than being stuck with a go/no-go decision. Ultimately, when options are given, the likelihood that something will get done increases. When giving options:

  • Make sure they somehow eliminate or at least reduce the hazards and behaviors
  • Make sure they somehow improve resources, programs, policies, plans, processes, procedures, practices, rules, forms, documents, reports
  • Recommend at least two (ideally three) solutions
    • Option 1: What can be done if money is no constraint
    • Option 2: What can be done if money is limited but available
    • Option 3: What can be done if money is a make/break consideration
  • Briefly list low/high cost solutions that eliminate the problem now/soon
  • Briefly list low/high cost solutions that reduce the problem now/soon
  • Briefly list the advantages and disadvantages of each solution

Key Steps (Continued)

4. Describe the consequences.

  • Describe the type of accident that might result from inaction. To help educate decision-makers it’s important to describe the type of accident that might result if corrective actions are not taken. The accident designations below are useful in describing the types of accidents that might result if hazards are not corrected. You can see a list of accident types in Course 702, Module 1.

  • Describe other natural consequences of management's decision. The natural consequences are those that occur automatically. Inaction might increase the cost of doing business (CODB) due to increased injuries or illness, and lower morale, productivity, quality, and profits. Management action will likely reduce the CODB because employees aren't getting hurt or sick, and morale, productivity, quality and profits remain high.

  • Describe the estimated insured and uninsured costs if corrective action not taken. According to the National Safety Council, the economic impact of these fatal and nonfatal unintentional injuries amounted to slighly less than $700 billion in 2009.

  • Describe the system consequences of inaction. System consequences usually originate outside the organization. Inaction might result in OSHA penalties, increased workers compensation, loss of contracts. Action is likely to result in lower penalties, workers compensation, and a higher probability of winning contracts.

  • Estimate the "return on investment" (ROI). Expressing the "cost" of taking corrective action and making system improvements is better expressed as an "investment" because it implies that the employer will realize a financial return if corrective actions are taken.

    Don't wait for the employer to ask you what the return will be on the investment in safety: the ROI. Determine the ROI proactively and include it in the report. Let's take a look at how to do that.

    Let's say the investment needed to correct a hazardous condition is $4,000. Let's also assume that the potential direct and indirect accident costs to the company may total $36,000 if the employer takes no action. You can calculate the ROI by dividing the $36,000 in accident costs by the $4,000 investment to get the ratio of 9/1. To determine the ROI as a percentage, multiply that result by 100 to arrive at an ROI of 900%.

    But that figure is pretty high, so let's say the hazardous condition could be reasonably expected to result in an accident within the next five years. To find the five-year ROI, just divide the 900% by 5 to arrive at an annual ROI of 180%. Now that's a healthy return! Whoah!

  • ROI
  • Estimate the payback period. Management may also want to know how quickly the investment will pay for itself: what the "payback period" is. Just divide $36,000 by 60 months and you come up with $600 per month in potential accident costs. Since the investment is $4,000, the investment will be paid back in a little more than six months. After that, we may assume that the corrective actions and improvements are actually saving the company a substantial amount of money. Now that's talking the bottom line!

Key Steps (Continued)

5. Determine the risk.

"Recognized" Hazards
Caught Between Hazards Recognition.

It's important that decision-makers understand the risk, or the possibility that an accident will occur, if action isn't taken to correct the hazard. Why is it important to determine the risk? The higher the risk, the stronger your argument needs to be.

Let’s take a look at the "Risk Equation" below that you can use to determine risk:

R = E x P x S

Risk Equation Variables

  • Risk (R) is a function of exposure, probability, and severity. When one or multiple of those variables increase, there is a higher level of risk of illness, injury, or fatality.
  • Exposure (E) is determined by considering the frequency and duration of physical/environmental exposure to a hazard.
  • Probability (P) describes how likely exposure to a danger zone will result in an injury (unlikely, likely, highly likely).
  • Severity (S) describes how serious the injury or illness might be (minor, major, fatality).

Risk Equation Example

Open this Risk Worksheet to follow along.

Let’s say you conduct a risk assessment for a task lifting heavy boxes. Two untrained older employees lift 80-pound boxes at least 10 times a day. They have to individually carry the boxes 50 ft to a loading dock. Using the Risk Worksheet, we can determine a risk score for the task that will help convince management to provide material handling devices or at least training on effective lifting techniques.

  • Exposure (E). First, we need to determine exposure. This task is considered to be performed continuously, or many times a day. The rating will be “200” in this example. We will double the score to “400” since two employees perform the task.
  • Probability (P). We can estimate that an injury will quite possibly occur. Other employees have suffered injuries performing this task. Since the employees are untrained and in their 50s, the likelihood of an injury increases. In this example we will assign a probability rating of 10. Since we doubled the exposure rating, we do not have to double the probability rating.
  • Severity (S). This task will most likely result in a serious injury to the back that could be disabling. We’ll give this task a severity rating of 20.
  • Risk (R). Multiplying Exposure x Probability x Severity (400 x 10 x 20), we arrive at a risk score of 80,000. Wow! That is a high score and it means that a serious injury is extremely likely at any time.

Key Steps (Continued)

6. Determine motivation.

What motivates employers?

Throughout the recommendation, think about what objections and motivations the decision-maker might have. Be sure to include counter-arguments to objections by addressing the three "imperatives" below where they most logically apply.

As discussed in OSHAcademy Course 700, employers are motivated to approve your recommendation primarily to meet one of the following safety obligations:

We do safety to meet these obligations.
  • The Legal Imperative: This describes the employer's legal duty to comply with occupational safety and health standards. When this is the primary motivation, safety is considered just another cost of doing business (CODB) that may drain the corporate budget. Unfortunately, the employer will do only what is required by law...probably not much more. The employer's primary goals are to:

    • Comply with OSHA standards
    • To "stay out of trouble" with OSHA
    • Avoid OSHA penalties
  • The Fiscal Imperative: The employer is obligated to corporate stakeholders to operate the business in a financially prudent manner. In the private sector, this means "operating at a profit." In the public sector, this means "operating within budget."

  • The Social Imperative: In the best-case situation, the employer feels a strong obligation to each employee, the community, and society in general to support and protect the welfare of all employees...its "corporate family." Safety is perceived as a core corporate value, not open to negotiation.

If your employer is "doing safety" primarily to meet legal requirements, and nothing more, to overcome objections you'll need to emphasize the legal benefits. Research indicates most employers are motivated primarily by the need to fulfill their fiscal responsibilities, so don't be surprised if management requires a cost/benefit analysis. If the employer makes a commitment to safety primarily to fulfill the social imperative, management is likely to approve your recommendation no matter what the investment might be. Just remember, you need to understand what motivates the decision-maker to increase your chances of getting your recommendations approved. You need to know which "buttons" to push.

Management Messages

When management understands the importance of taking corrective action and making safety program improvements, and acts on recommendations consistently, it sends a very positive message about leadership to the workforce. It tells workers the employer cares for and values every employee! When this message is clearly sent, employees are far more likely to put out the extra effort for the company which benefits everyone.

When management ignores or does not set out to correct hazards in the work place, a negative message is sent to the workforce: a message that infers a lack of care and value for employees. Through word and deed, management convinces workers that corporate profits take priority over employee welfare. Managers communicate that they are willing to take an acceptable level of risk as though the employee were more a "unit of labor" than a valuable human resource. A strong recommendation doesn't have to be complicated.

Right now, you might be rather intimidated by all this, but take heart; an effective recommendation doesn't have to meet all of the criteria above, and it doesn't have to be a massive document. For instance, here's an example of a very excellent recommendation submitted by a course graduate, Dianna G.

  1. Problem: The guard rail in the warehouse has deteriorated to a point that it is unable to support any weight on it.

  2. History: We had an incident on 6/13/06 where Joe Annon almost fell down the 10 steps because the guard rail did not support his weight. He fortunately caught himself before falling. We had a second near miss incident on 9/18/06 when Jane Doe tripped going up the stairs and grabbed for the rail which did not support her. Again, fortunately she caught herself before falling.

  3. Options to correct problem:
    1. We have attempted to tighten and brace the rail but it continues to work itself loose. We took bids to replace the rail and the bids ranged from a high of $3,200 to a low bid of $1,500. We believe the xyz brand for $2,000 will prove to be the best material for our facility. The disadvantage to the lowest bid of $1,500 was it would not be guaranteed for outside weather conditions.

    2. We budgeted "x" for off-site training classes and have secured a source for on-line no-cost training through OSHA that could save "X" dollars that could be applied toward part of the cost of the guard rail.

  4. Cost/Benefit:

    ROI: Average cost of a severe injury is $9,700 which is very possible if one of our employees should fall from the second story of the warehouse to the concrete pad below. The estimated indirect cost is $17,500. Total accident cost is estimated to be $27,200. ROI will be approximately 1,360 percent!

    Payback Period. I estimate that the probability of an accident occurring within the next two years as a result of this hazard is very high. Therefore, the payback period is based on 24 months. Our cost for corrective action is $2,000 and the pay back period would, therefore, be less than 2 months ($1,133/month).

Final Words

Well, that's it for this module. Writing effective recommendations gets easier as you gain experience. It's the job of the person making the recommendation to "educate up" so that management understands the importance of making the right decision. Just remember, if you know what motivates your manager and you push the right buttons, you'll get results you want.

Time to take your FINAL MODULE QUIZ. Once you complete this quiz, go back, review the others, and then take the final exam.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. You may perceive corrective actions as _____, but management may see them as _____. Your challenge is to help them develop informed perceptions.

2. The primary purpose of a recommendation is to _____.

3. Conditions and behaviors described in a problem statement represent the _____ of a safety management system (SMS) that may have somehow failed.

4. _____ describes how likely an injury or illness might be.

5. Increases in the cost of doing business (CODB) due to a higher number of injuries, lower morale and productivity are examples of _____.

6. Options give the decision-maker greater _____ by allowing him or her to choose from a number of solutions rather than being stuck with a go/no-go decision.

7. Expressing the "cost" to take corrective action and improvements is better expressed as a/an ______________ because it helps to communicate the notion that the employer will realize a financial return.

8. What do you need to know to increase the probability a decision-maker will approve your recommendation?

9. Employees are more likely to perform above minimum expectations when managers _____.

10. What is the ROI on an investment of $1,000 if the potential savings is $29,000?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.