How To Remove Silos in Safety Programmes

Silos Are Meant for Farm Commodities, Only

The mission of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Great Britain is to prevent death, injury, and ill health in the workplace. Being a safety professional for many years now, I’ve always been conflicted by the HSE designations for the main reason that these designations immediately indicate that three silos must be managed.

From the perspective of HSE, 'Health' refers commonly to three siloed areas:

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  1. Wellness programs
  2. Safety, meaning the defensive work we do to protect employees
  3. Environment (which we will not discuss in this blog)

The challenge in having three silos straight out of the gate is that most companies have different groups, with different focuses and goals in managing these three parts. It is my opinion that these parts are not mutually exclusive and I will make a case for tearing down the silos to improve the health and wellness of employees, while at the same time improving opportunities for a company to benefit financially.

Lets begin by thinking about commonalities.


I am going to commit safety sacrilege and say something very controversial; safety is not #1... Don’t worry... production numbers, profit statements, and compliance awards are not #1 either... People are #1, plain and simple.

ISO 55000 states: "An asset is an item, thing or entity that has potential or actual value to an organisation" 

People are the most important asset in an organisation. Quality production equipment, procedures and products can be replaced easily. People, on the other hand, cannot.

It would be considered negligent for a company to not provide the best available preventative and predictive maintenance strategies for critical equipment, right? Why then would there not be an interest to provide the best in preventative and predictive care strategies for employees??

There are over 300 million Americans in the US with over 150 million of them being workers. Workers in the oil industry spend more than half of their waking hours working (9.7hrs/day), on average.

The cold hard fact is that work affects an employees health care options, emotional well-being and family life. In order to fully address the health of an employee, we have to address what happens both inside and outside of work.

In most companies, workplace wellness and safety programs are managed in a silo with workers compensation and benefits. Health protection and safety programs are typically focused on reducing worker exposures to risks in the workplace, while company wellness programs have focused exclusively on lifestyle risk factors away from the job.

Statistics show that in the past the cost of workers compensation has been relatively stable, but times are changing quickly and the cost of healthcare is becoming a much greater issue. In fact, the cost of healthcare is often one of the top concerns of business owners. Some estimates show that with the current growth rate, by 2030 the US will spend 27%-30% of gross domestic product on healthcare alone. This is economically unsustainable.

Another challenge is that many workers are choosing to work longer for various reasons, one reason being the sliding dates of social security benefits. Fewer workers retire early today and the trend is forecasted to continue. According to a Boston College report, many older workers rate their health status as good to excellent. This may not be true unfortunately, in that many also report having chronic conditions causing them to be forced out of the company due to medical issues.

Another problem looms large as well. According to a 2007 Duke University study, workers compensation costs for obese employees were much higher than the cost for employees without obesity risks. Researchers found a clear and linear relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the rate of claims. Employees with a BMI greater than 40 had twice as many claims, seven times more lost workdays, and 10 times more lost wages.

Alignment Issues

Insurance providers work with clients and the client corporate internal structure. Most often I see Financial Departments or controllers and the property/casualty agents focus on workers compensation and safety, while HR and benefits agents focus on employee benefits and wellness. In most cases, employee benefits cost six to eight times more than workers compensation but for some reason this is not the focus of finance departments or controllers. Maybe this is a result of history, convenience or lack of expertise, but it doesn’t make good business sense.


When it comes to managing risk, workers compensation and safety get the lion’s share of attention, with little or no recognition of managing health. This, in turn, raises the cost of healthcare and increases lost productivity through absenteeism or ineffective performance of the workforce. This not only raises costs to the employer, but subsequently affects employee morale and performance through higher premiums and lower wages.

An Innovative Response

There is growing evidence to support that a coordinated approach to health promotion, wellness and protection, or safety is more effective if approached together instead of separately.

In 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched a new initiative based on a comprehensive view of worker health and safety. This perspective of keeping employees healthy and safe, both at work and at home, makes a great deal of sense; while employers have a duty to provide a safe and hazard-free workplace, they also have many opportunities to promote individual health and healthy work environments.

Maintaining a healthier workforce can help to lower direct costs such as insurance premiums and workers compensation claims. It also works indirectly to minimise absenteeism and increase productivity.

If the desire is to improve employee health, your company can create a wellness culture that is employee centred providing supportive environments where safety is ensured and health can emerge and grow; giving employees the opportunity to engage in a variety of workplace health programs.

Affects Outside of Work

Everyone benefits from a healthy workforce. As the company notices the benefits at the workplace, other benefits will emerge as well. As an employee feels healthier and happier, so does his family.

What follows are are some examples of the overlap between family and work:

  • Stress from work affects our family life and vice versa
  • Eating nutritious foods makes for a more healthier and productive workforce, yet healthy food is difficult or impossible to find at work
  • Chemical exposures on the job can lead to exposures at home via contamination of clothing
  • Poor safety performance at a facility can lead to stress for families
  • Increasing costs of health benefits and insurance can result is financial stresses for families and result in family health being put at risk

A company has an excellent opportunity to influence overall corporate health and culture by addressing the general health issues of its workforce - not just workplace hazards.

This can only happen if the company puts forth an operational coordination of policies, programs and practices designed to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses, while enhancing overall workforce health and well-being.

Successful Integration

There are some key requirements that must be in place for integration to be successful:

  • Organisational leadership and commitment: Top management needs to define and communicate clearly the vision and provide adequate resources for implementation. A plan without resources is just another 'flavour of the month' and destined for less than satisfactory results.
  • Coherent coordination between health protection and health promotion: Finance, HR and your safety organisation along with solid employee participation need to be at the table. Consider a remake to your current safety committee into a health and safety committee since the basic structure and budget is already there and makes it easier to expand the focus of the current group rather than re-invent the wheel.
  • Supporting organisational policies and practices: This includes processes for accountability and training, coordinated management and employee engagement strategies, benefits and incentives to support workplace health promotion and protection and assurance processes to measure performance as well as comprehensive program content (classes, tool-box talks, health promotion topics etc.)


Once the integration steps are prepared, the company is ready to design and implement the new program. Here are some key principles to keep in mind:

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  1. Engage workers
  2. Engage management
  3. Develop a clear and detailed project plan with allocated resources
  4. Integrate systems (Silo Removal)
  5. Focus on organisational solutions rather than quick fixes
  6. Provide appropriate incentives
  7. Stay flexible
  8. Continually evaluate the program - Make adjustments when appropriate

In Summary...

Integration is not easy, but it should be considered for a variety of reasons:

  • Workers are interested in improving health issues
  • Rising costs of claims can be slowed significantly
  • The chances of wellness principles being accepted increase when it is folded into the safety program, which is already accepted by the workforce

Most diseases, injuries and other health conditions experienced by the workforce involve a number of factors or causes that the siloed approach fails to recognise, or treat. This is especially true as the workforce ages. Evidence supporting the role of work and personal risk factors in the health of working people is often underused in developing interventions; achieving a longer, healthy working life requires a comprehensive preventative approach.

A company needs to deal with the whole worker - their most valuable assets - working to keep them healthy and safe at both work and home. Successful integration will result in lower costs for workers compensation and group health insurance. It also results in a more effective workforce and improves morale. 

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