How Many Safety Pros Do You Need to Hire?

How Many Safety Pros Do You Need to Hire?

One of the biggest challenges companies face today has to do with staffing. It’s completely natural, then, to wonder how much staffing is required for non-production roles—including safety officers and safety managers. Believe it or not, there are no government mandates that a business must hire OSHA-certified safety professionals, much less an exact number of such professionals. But experience has taught us that there is an ideal number of safety professionals, based on a number of factors. Understanding the formula for determining that ideal number can be illuminating in a variety of ways, and help leadership to create a safer work environment.

The Appropriate Ratio of Occupational Safety and Health Professionals to Employees

Ratios in Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) staffing models help determine adequate staffing levels for OSH professionals based on the risks present in your organization. The actual formula for the number of health and safety professionals recommended is based on 1) the nature of your workplace or construction site, 2) the number of full-time and part-time employees, and 3) the degree of hazard typically present there.

The formula looks like this:

{Number of qualified occupational health and safety professionals} = A x B x C x D x E x F x G + H

Each letter here represents a different factor to measure and consider in determining the ideal ratio for your workplace. Those factors are defined below.

Are Employers Required to Hire OSH Professionals?

Again, there is no mandate that a company or small business owner must hire an OSHA-certified safety professional, but they do have written directives on the subject, many of which make reference to having a “competent person” on the premises.

How OSHA defines a competent person depends on the type of hazard present. Essentially, though, a competent person is one who is considered capable of recognizing existing and predictable hazards at the construction site or with the equipment. This includes hazards to the surrounding public and the company and small business owners’ full-time and part-time employees. This person must also be competent to take appropriate action in an accident. For a complete list of the OSHA competent person requirements, visit www.osha.gov/competent-person.

Are There Licensing or Registration Requirements for Occupational Safety and Health Professionals?

There are no licensing requirements for practicing OSH professionals. However, many states have licensing requirements for OSH professionals working as loss-control representatives for the insurance industry. Numerous safety and health-related certifications exist, but again, these are not required—they merely signal that a given candidate has received extra, specialized training.

That said, the best candidate for a safety officer position will typically have some job training in the area (along with typical education requirements, like a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree). The exact amount of training and education companies require can vary quite a bit, depending on the level of the position they are looking to hire (and their particular safety needs, of course). For example, an entry-level position might require minimal training and certification, with the idea that a new hire can earn these while on the job. Safety managers, however, might need to show more years of experience and more credentials.

Regardless of formal training, the right person for any safety job should be familiar with the safety hazards typical for your workplace, as well as the safety standards and requirements that exist in your industry. If hiring outside safety consultants or safety specialists, whatever vetting your company would do for a new hire, it should also do for those consultants.

Is there any Data Showing that it Makes Financial Sense to Hire Full-Time Occupational Safety and Health Professionals?

If OSHA requires only that there be a competent person on site, a company might be tempted to “pare down” the number of full-time safety professionals and distribute those duties more widely in order to alleviate staffing issues. There is more to the decision, however, than just compliance with OSHA mandates. It turns out that investing in full-time OSH professionals is a sound investment, too.

For example, a Liberty Mutual poll of executives determined that for every $1 companies spent on construction site safety, they saved at least $3. And in a classic study at Lockheed Martin, it was found that developing a safety culture at their Paducah plant increased employee productivity by 24% and reduced the factory’s costs by 20%—and that the major reason for these gains was their focus on reducing errors that lead to job hazards and accidents.

Part of the role of a full-time OSH professional is to instill such a safety culture, as well as to stay up-to-date on regulatory requirements and best practices in the area of occupational safety.

The Formula to Determine how Many Safety Professionals to Hire

Again, the formula to determine how many safety professionals you should hire is:

{Number of qualified occupational health and safety professionals} = A x B x C x D x E x F x G + H

Each of these variables is a factor that a company needs to explore when considering the need for safety programs and professionals. Understanding all of the factors in play can shine a light on what takes up a safety professional's time, how programs can be best implemented, and how to ultimately achieve a safe work environment for everyone. The power of this formula is less in the math, but more the process of evaluating various factors that interplay in helping what is the best way to sufficiently staff the safety department at your workplace.

Let’s consider each factor in turn.

A - Number of Employees

The more employees you have, the more OSH professionals you will need, but it is not a linear relationship—there are some efficiencies of scale to be had as a company gets bigger. Find your number of employees here and use the appropriate multiplier for your A-factor.

B - Degree of Hazard

Degree of Hazard is a measure of the average degree of risk for all employees.

Note that different sets of employees will have different degrees of hazard. In this case, multiply the factor by the number of employees with that factor. Add the results, and then divide this total by the number of employees to get the weighted average (see example below).

C - Degree of Dispersion

Dispersion is, roughly, how spread out your workforce is. The idea here is simple: If it takes more than a day of travel to visit a worksite, that travel time will eat up the bandwidth of any safety professionals that need to do inspections, file reports, and so on.

For this factor, determine the rough percentage of your employees that are located far enough away from the main OSH office that more than one day is required for a visit (and return):

D - Degree of Responsibility: Operating Level

Degree of Responsibility: Operating Level is a rough indication of how involved your OSH professionals are with the day-to-day execution of your safety programs.

E - Degree of Responsibility: Establishment of Health & Safety Policies and Procedures

Degree of Responsibility: Establishment of Health & Safety Policies and Procedures is a long way of saying the degree to which OSH professionals are involved in establishing your safety policies and procedures to begin with.

F - Degree of Assignment to the Line Organization

To what degree do managers share the burden of ensuring that safety activities are completed? And to what degree do these activities fall solely to the safety professional? This is what the Degree of Assignment factor is meant to capture.

G - Duplication

To what degree is the performance of safety functions duplicated across staff? For example, are all functions fully duplicated across all staff? Or are only half of all functions so duplicated across your staff? Or all functions but for only half of your staff? Choose the option that best matches your organization:

H - Additional Considerations: Measurements of Safety Overstaffing

Sometimes safety professionals pull double duty. To what degree are they involved in other duties that are not directly related to the safety and health of the staff? How often do they need to deal with exceptional health and safety situations? How often do unusual circumstances arise that eat into the safety professionals’ schedule? A good way to answer these questions is to estimate the number of additional managers you would need to hire to pick up these additional duties if they were separated from the OSH role. (In other words, the estimated number of necessary managers to assume those duties is the factor.)

Working out the Formula with an Example

There are a lot of factors that go into calculating the ideal ratio of safety professionals to employees, so it’s good to see how the formulate works with a specific example in mind.

Let’s consider a sample facility—an FDA laboratory. What might their factors look like?

Resulting in this computation for required staffing: 0.8 x 1.5 x 1.0 x 1.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.450

…or, 45%. This means that a part-time Safety & Health professional is needed to perform safety duties, or 45% of an FTE.

Setting Them off on the Right Foot

Starting as a new safety officer (or part-time safety professional) can be a bit of a daunting task. This isn’t just a new employee, but a person now tasked with the health and safety of all your other part-time and full-time employees (and contractors)! It is incredibly important not only to find the right candidate(s), but to get those safety pros started in the right way. A few tips:

Remember, this isn’t just about the raw number of people in the safety office. It’s about the shared responsibility for health and safety—and about giving your safety professionals adequate time to do their jobs effectively. When it comes to hiring, the investment is well worth it.

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