Feature Article - September/October 2008

Precautionary Measures

Offering Effective Safety Incentives

By Emily Tipping

What is the cost of an unsafe working environment? Does it go beyond the corporate budget? Surely the cost of a life lost or forever altered by injury cannot be measured in monetary terms. And certainly the benefits companies stand to gain by improving workplace safety go far beyond budgetary impacts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 the number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses reported declined, but was still more than 4 million. The largest share of injuries was found in the manufacturing sector (20.1 percent), the health care and social assistance sector (16.3 percent) and the retail trade sector (14.8 percent). Other industries, including transportation and construction, also cite safety as a chief concern due to higher rates of injury. And according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), 5,488 people lost their lives in 2007 due to workplace injuries.

In a speech in October 2007, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) said, "Every year, workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities cost our nation more than $170 billion."

Just one work-related injury came with an average cost to the economy of $30,000 in 2006, according to the National Safety Council. That means a single incident at your facility or company can have a crippling impact on your operations and profitability. In addition to the huge dollar amounts driven by lost productivity, employers pay the bill in terms of compensation costs for injured employees and their families, insurance premium increases that inevitably follow an accident, the cost to replace or repair damaged equipment, and the payouts associated with lawsuits, not to mention the impact on employee morale, your reputation with your customers and clients, and other less immediately tangible effects.