Janitor safety best practices apply industry-wide. In-house cleaning managers can learn tips from contract cleaners, too. For example, IH Services, Greenville, South Carolina, began focusing on improving safety 10 years ago, recognizing the impact that workplace injuries had on their modification (MOD) rates and workers' compensation costs. The facility management company's "12 Steps to Zero Accidents" safety program has not only led to a 40 percent improvement in its experience modification rate (EMR) and nearly 85 percent decrease in overall accidents, but has also completely transformed the culture of the business.

At the heart of the program is the "Zero Zone," which heightens awareness of safe habits and practices. Employees are empowered to become experts on safety, recognizing conditions that might lead to an injury. This is key because custodians work on an island by themselves, says Gunter Langston II, vice president of human resources at IH Services.

"A safety program shouldn't sit on a manager's desk in a three-ring binder," says Langston. "It should be employee-driven and reinforced every morning. Most people aren't going to respond if you're walking around with a clipboard and smacking them on the hand when they're not being safe."

The program spotlights new employees with red risk wristbands, because their data has shown that employees who are within the first six months of employment are most likely to be injured. This helps other employees know that they should step in if they see that employee performing an unsafe activity.

After six months of no accidents, employees are given a blue TeamMate wristband showing the successful completion of the rookie status.

Dawn Weber, the company's director of inclusion, learning and development, was responsible for the development of "Zero," the cartoon character who serves as the face of the program. In posters, stickers and other literature, Zero reminds teammates of safe practices, such as "test before you tug."

Even if an organization doesn't have the resources to put a marketing campaign behind their safety program, communication is all you need, says Weber.

"Communication doesn't cost you anything," she says. "Talking about safety issues, catching someone doing something positive — that doesn't cost a dime. Statistics show that the impact of a raise lasts about 17 days, but telling an employee you appreciate them and see them doing something good lasts forever."

As the data shows, cleaning workers are at a higher risk of injury than most other occupations. When those figures are combined with low wages, it's no surprise organizations have issues attracting and retaining skilled workers.

Managers have an opportunity to lead with safety. By identifying steps to reduce common injuries in a department, balancing workloads, communicating safe practices and leading the development of a safe workplace culture, a company can set itself apart.

These types of initiatives show employees that a company cares about them as people, not just as workers who need to clean more, faster.

Andi Curry is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.

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