“Workplace safety processes must be in place at all times,” American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHMM, of Fairborn, OH, said last month (December 2008). “They are even more critical during business downturns.” Brown is referring to recent reports of some companies cutting safety processes hoping to reduce costs.
“If companies believe they will save money by reducing or ignoring safety for their workers, customers, and communities they do business in, they are mistaken,” Brown said. “The ongoing positive results are in and have been for companies that have a strong safety culture and continually invest in and implement effective safety processes. Not only does their bottom line benefit positively, but their company reputation stays intact, employees stay safe and healthy reducing health care, workers comp, training, and turnover cost—not to mention keeping customers, the communities they do business in, vendors, and employees happy. Safety is good business.”
President-Elect of the ASSE South Carolina Chapter Laura Comstock said, “Some safety related purchases and testing can be deferred, but other purchases, such as those for employee personal protective equipment (PPE) like hardhats, safety glasses, and respirators, are critical to operations.”
It is especially important for companies to show support for their employee safety during challenging economic times, she notes. “Employee morale may be low and employees may be carrying additional workloads, such as working additional hours or doing unfamiliar tasks due to cutbacks,” she notes. Comstock added, “In order to remain viable long-term, a company must maintain a solid safety process even through difficult times. The most successful companies in the long term also have the strongest safety performance.”
“We realize these are tough times, but during economic down-turns, employers seeking to cut expenses may target variable operating costs such as travel, training and safety,” Brown said. “Money cut from safety processes now could have an enormous cost later; this can be from injury and health care costs, fines, lost production time, employee morale, or worst of all, employee injury or even death. There are better and smarter ways to protect the bottom line.”
Employees can also take measures to help companies save money such as by: following safe working procedures and practices to prevent injuries, related downtime and expenses such as costly fines; by properly using, cleaning, and caring for protective equipment such as hardhats and respirators; reusing gloves whenever possible for as long as possible; and by keeping track of safety glasses and reusable hearing protection.
Investing in safety pays and contributes positively to a company’s bottom line. Businesses spend about $170 billion a year on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses and pay almost $1 billion every week to injured employees and their medical providers. In addition, a recent investment firm study in Australia showed valuation links between workplace safety and health factors and investment performance. It found that companies who did not adequately manage workplace safety issues underperformed those that did.
Comstock also reminds employers, “When considering training reductions, some safety related training is driven by regulation, is time sensitive and cannot be delayed. Safety training related savings can be generated by streamlining and implementing simple solutions including using online or electronic safety training services, rather than face-to-face classroom safety training.”
“We need to work together during these difficult times, but reducing or ignoring workplace safety should not be a strategic or budget option,” Brown said. “The costs—both tangible and intangible—are far too high and hard to recoup.”