Ignoring Safety During Economic Downturns Can Be Costly, Experts Warn
Employers, the group said, should explore creative ways of generating temporary and long-term savings in safety and training expenses, while still ensuring that employees' needs are met and regulations are followed.
"Workplace safety processes must be in place at all times," said Warren K. Brown, president of the ASSE. "They are even more critical during business downturns."
Speaking to occupational safety and health students from Oklahoma State University, Brown said he was concerned about recent reports that some companies were cutting safety processes in an effort to reduce operating costs.
"If companies believe they will save money by reducing or ignoring safety for their workers, customers and the communities they do business in, they are mistaken," he 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 by reducing health care, workers' comp, training and turnover costs -- not to mention keeping customers, the communities they do business in, vendors, and employees happy."
Brown reiterated the importance of investing in safety and how it can positively impact a company's bottom line. He noted that 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, Brown highlighted a recent study by Goldman Sachs that showed valuation links between workplace safety, health factors and investment performance. It found that companies that did not adequately manage workplace safety issues underperformed compared to those that did, and that workplace safety and health factors are potentially more effective at identifying underperforming stocks.
Slashing safety programs can hurt morale, lead to violations. During economic downturns, Brown said employers seeking to cut expenses often target variable operating costs such as travel, training and safety. However, slashing budgets can negatively impact employees and the workplace in a variety of ways.
"Money cut from safety processes now could have an enormous cost later," Brown said. "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."
Laura Comstock, president-elect of ASSE's South Carolina chapter, said it is especially important for companies to show support for their safety programs during challenging economic times because it may impact employee morale. Employee morale, she said, may be low, and employees may be working additional hours or performing unfamiliar tasks due to cutbacks, making them more prone to injury and accidents.
"In order to remain viable long term, a company must maintain a solid safety program and strong safety performance even through difficult times," she said. "The most successful companies in the long term also have the strongest safety performance."
Use strategies to save money on safety expenses. Comstock said that although some safety-related funding can be delayed or deferred, many of these expenses are critical.
"Some safety-related purchases and testing can be deferred, but other purchases such as those for employee personal protective equipment like hard hats, safety glasses and respirators are critical to operations," she said.
Comstock offered tips on how employers can take measures to help companies save money on safety-related expenses. She said employers should:
- Properly use, clean and care for protective equipment. By doing this, employers should be able to extend the life of equipment such as hard hats and respirators.
- Reuse gloves whenever possible for as long as possible. If you do reuse gloves or other equipment, it is important to ensure that they are cleaned properly before they are used again.
- Keep track of safety glasses and reusable hearing protection.
- Follow safe working procedures and practices to prevent injuries. By being proactive with your safety program, Comstock said employers can reduce lost work days associated with injuries and costly fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"When considering training reductions, some safety-related training is driven by regulation, is time sensitive, and cannot be delayed," Comstock said. "Safety training-related savings can be generated by streamlining and implementing some simple solutions."
Some solutions include using online or electronic safety training services, rather than face-to-face classroom safety training -- even if employees and employers prefer classroom settings.
"Even if a company doesn't have a high-tech system, having employees view a simple presentation may meet the company's need for safety training," Comstock said. "Employers that have safety and training professionals on staff can save on costs related to training by conducting training on shift and at the job site to prevent overtime or taking employees off the job for extended periods."
Brown said management and safety personnel need to work together to develop a solution.
"We need to work together during these difficult times, but reducing or ignoring workplace safety should not be a strategic or budget option," he said. "The costs, both tangible and intangible, are far too high and hard to recoup."
January 26, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications