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Safety: Fit and Function in a Loss Prevention Paradigm

Posted on 4/26/13 9:13 AM

Mike Alsfeld, Loss prevention at SwarovskiA word with Mike Alsfeld

Loss prevention and Corporate Security Manager at Swarovski

The need for a safety program appears to be common sense, much like putting locks on doors. The term “safety program” is however a deceptively simple idea for an area that requires daily efforts. What appears a simple solution becomes ever more complex as we consider both the expanse of issues to attend and the requirements for maintaining a safe environment. At the heart of the matter are three broad stroke considerations.

1. Our store interiors are moving entities - customers, product, debris, wear and tear, all change throughout the day and sometimes the hour.

2. “Safety” covers many different aspects of behavior and conditions so there is much to consider

3. An effective program requires planning, inspection and actions so it is not as simple as a “policy” and an “audit.”

To read more about Safety Program Planning download LPI’s eBook - Safety Basics You Can Maintain.

The responsibility of developing and maintaining a safety program often falls to Loss Prevention. Loss Prevention personnel however do not always come from a background of safety training. So while it may seem a “good” fit because safety is a form of loss prevention, that fit doesn’t necessarily mean the LP team has all the answers. Like any expertise, safety requires training and experience. To help answer some of the question on “what makes a good program,” we have enlisted the help of experience safety expert Mike Alsfeld.

Mr. Alsfeld is in charge of loss prevention for Swarovksi North America and heads up their global loss prevention initiatives. Before he entered the field of loss prevention however, Mr. Alsfeld was (and continues to be) in charge of safety for Swarovski. Mike has developed, implemented, and monitored programs that include Worker’s Comp analysis, OSHA standards, hazardous material safety, accident investigation, ergonomic designs, and store safety. In short, he is an expert in retail safety programs. We asked Mr. Alsfeld to answer the ten top questions when considering a company’s safety program efforts.

1. How does safety “fit” into the loss prevention paradigm?

Safety is at the core of all that we do. Many LP professionals believe that safety is a standalone component of a larger “Risk Management” program. As a matter of fact, some believe that an effective safety program is ensuring that you have the appropriate Workers’ Compensation insurance and when an accident does occur, it is the responsibility of their insurance company to manage the claim. That can’t be further from the truth. Once an injury has occurred, we, as LP professionals, have already failed. Safety statistics indicate that for every injury there would have been almost 100 “near misses” that would indicate that an injury is about to occur. When employees feel safe, they will also feel that the organization cares about them and they will give you their all. It’s like any relationship.When we develop asset protection policies, programs and awareness campaigns, safety is already an important factor and included; we sometimes just don’t recognize it. Most times safety is a derivative of an existing LP program/policy.

There are many examples of how safety already exists at some level in your organization, your opportunity is to capitalize on that and let your associates know that they are important.

2. Do you believe there are correlations between safety issues and general store performance?

Absolutely. Most retail establishments operate on a narrow margin, some less than 1%. Consider the impact to a single store following an accident that carries a direct cost of $5000. Do you realize how much merchandise you have to sell to cover the cost of that accident? That is just the direct costs, how about the indirect costs. Statistically speaking the average indirect cost associated with an injury can be 5-20 times higher. So that $5000 claim could actually cost you $25,000 - $100,000!

Now, that is the financial implications. How about morale, negative publicity, retraining, rehiring, management time, damages…. The list goes on and on.

3. What impact do safety issues like accidents and injuries have on retailers?

More than you would think. People want to work in organizations that care about them. Care can be defined in many different ways; salary/bonuses, physical work environment, engagement, etc. Employees that feel cared for and safe normally want to contribute to the organization and will be more engaged. As we all know from an LP perspective, an employee that is not engaged is more likely to make mistakes or get involved in dishonest activities, costing the organization money.

Statistically speaking, Retail has the 2nd highest number of recordable injuries compared to all OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reported business sectors.

The combined Wholesale and Retail Sector had more nonfatal injuries/ illnesses than any major industry sector except manufacturing, and more injuries/illnesses experienced were severe enough to result in days away from work than those in any other sector, including manufacturing.

4. What are the basic components of an effective program?

Policies and Procedures – Sets the stage for all associates. Defines expectations, measurables and accountability standards for all.

Audits, Awareness and Recognition – Once you’ve set the standards you should measure your performance, ensure ongoing awareness and celebrate the successes that you will identify.

Corrective Measure – If you find opportunities for improvement or have experienced an incident there are 3 ways in which to minimize the potential for a recurrence

5. What do you believe are the biggest obstacles to execution?

Awareness and complacency. One of the largest misconceptions in safety is that most major accidents and injuries occur in chemical plants, refineries and manufacturing facilities. Though there are larger scale and highly publicized accidents in those industries, Retail injuries account for more than 40% of all reported accidents based on recent OSHA statistics. What could happen in a 1200 sq foot specialty store??

6. Larger retailers can devote more resources to the issues, how can it work for a smaller retailer?

Actually, safety can be easier to implement in a specialty environment. Larger retailers have more risks, usually associated with material handling issues. With a smaller store footprint, fewer staff and usually located within a Mall environment, the safety concerns are usually much easier to identify and control. The key to an effective safety program in a smaller retail environment is integration. A true safety culture can only live if embraced by all associates and it starts with the on boarding process. Make safety part of the screening dialogue and new employee orientation, create and add a safety mission to your employee handbook/post it on the wall in the stockroom, add safety tips to your LP awareness program, recognize stores for making safety suggestions and improvements but most important, employees must see that management is engaged, responsible and accountable for the safety of every associate and customer. Remember that you can and should delegate responsibility but not accountability.

7. After 9/11 and then Katrina, contingency plans received a lot of attention. Over time that seems to fade. Tragic events like the recent Boston Marathon explosions again remind us that our world is sometimes unpredictable. What should we take away from these national disaster events?

That a comprehensive written critical incident response program and crisis manual is important, just not as important as a sustained awareness and training campaign. We, at times, can have very short memory after a natural or manmade disaster occurs. Immediately following an Active Shooter event in a mall, we get our crisis manuals out, develop awareness materials on lock down procedures and remind our staff on emergency response protocols. Within a few weeks, we are back to the grind and so focused on sales, shrink reduction, cash management procedures, that we completely forget about the incident. This is and will be an ongoing balancing act, as we want to look forward in safety and not backwards in fear while trying to keep our teams aware of true risk and how to respond in the event of a major incident. This can be best accomplished by ensuring that you make your incident response program not just a chapter in an Operation manual but something that is discussed on weekly basis. It can be as simple as having your staff all read a brief part but different part of your crisis manual and share ideas.

8. For a company without a structured program, what should be their first steps?

Education and awareness. I know that’s a very common answer. Specifically what I mean is to start the safety dialogue at all levels of the organization. When safety statistics (WC MOD, incident trends, accident reviews, close calls) are discussed and made part of your scheduled meetings and dialogue, then it will start to live in the organization. I am not suggesting that you have to hire a safety expert, but when you make safety part of the associates/managers/DM/ corporate management/HR/LP’s vocabulary, you will start to see an incredible transformation in your company. The key is to keep it simple. You don’t necessarily need another KPI or a fully involved training program, start with a simple letter from the highest levels of the organization reminding the staff about asset protection, reminding them that your most important asset, is them. Let them know that safety must be part of everything that they do and empower them to report and possibly make safety improvement in their own stores.

9. How should we audit safety - is this a daily weekly or yearly task?

Actually, hourly. Let me explain. There are two common ways in which most organizations audit their environments.

1. Formal – Written, organized, scheduled and measured.

2. Ad/Hoc – These are normally due to a trend of incidents or seasonality (inclement weather, Black Friday, Holidays, etc.)

Both of the above are usually corporate driven and require some form of documentation and management direction. The most effective way to inspect, which I would suggest is being done in most locations on an hourly basis, is the 3rd way;

3. Informal – The most effective auditing tool and one that we have learned our whole lives. Spills, setting up a ladder, mats/uneven surfaces, etc. – these are the unsafe condition that we “audit” on an hourly basis. We are wired to ensure our personal safety and if we see an unsafe condition, we act and fix what is wrong. The challenge usually is communicating the unsafe condition. When you establish a formal program with transparent and easy reporting mechanisms, you will be more likely identify trends, anticipate a potential injury and ensure correctives measures are taken to minimize the potential for an incident across the organization.

10. If you had to pick one thing to inspect based on your experience with injuries and accidents, what would that be?

Slips, trips and falls. Claims related to these types of injuries costs retailer more than $1 billion annually. The good news is that these areas (ladders, uneven surfaces such as floor mats and wet floors) are the easiest to identify and prevent. Minimal expenditures, time and resources are required to identify and eliminate these types of risks. Employee awareness is your best prevention. Remember, high heel shoes and an 8 foot ladder doesn’t mix well


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Topics: training and awareness

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