This blog post was originally published in April 2016.
Every business has safety risks that could impact employees if not managed efficiently. These types of safety risks fall under the term occupational safety.
Occupational safety deals with all aspects of physical, mental and social health and safety in a workplace. It is the umbrella for company’s efforts to prevent injuries and hazards in all work environments.
Every industry presents various kinds of safety hazards to its employees. The spectrum of possible occupational safety risks ranges from severe and immediate physical dangers to milder hazards. The more immediate cases can be fires, explosions, chemical hazards or other such dangers that present an immediate threat to an employee’s life. Milder hazards include challenges in ergonomics, workloads, mental capacity and general well-being of employees. The latter kinds of risks often take place in an office environment. However, whatever business you are in, there is always the possibility of an accident happening to someone.
Well-maintained occupational safety saves money
The biggest and non-measurable cost of a safety failure might be of the personal kind. A lost limb or years of mental rehabilitation can force an individual to adopt a completely new lifestyle and even self-identity. It’s hard to define how to put a price tag on those types of incidents. Fatal injuries, where people actually get killed at completing their tasks, are also unquestionably beyond what we can economically quantify. Besides the one being killed, there are several other direct stakeholders such as family and friends, coworkers and other parties that suffer from it.
These accidents also directly impact the company’s bottom line. An injured employee easily means countless lost man hours and quickly adds up to not only billions but trillions of euros in company’s expenses. Only in the US the costs of non-fatal injuries and occupational diseases account for more than estimated $450B. Similarly, fatal injuries in 2019 accounted for the estimated $171B in the US. From a company’s perspective, the expenses do not add up only because of lost in productivity, but also because of the increasing insurance costs.
Another big loss to a company comes from decreased work morale and increased employee retention. People want to feel safe. It comes as no surprise if employees’ work morale decreases after seeing, for instance, a coworker fall of a lifting track because of inadequate safety measures. Another point is that with decreased morale the best people tend to leave first.
Occupational safety creates new opportunities
Instead of just seeing occupational safety as hazards and costs which should be controlled and limited, another viewpoint is to embrace it as an untapped opportunity.
One example of doing this is the story of Alcoa. The aluminum products manufacturer is famous for understanding the importance of occupational safety and showing how investment in it can positively affect company profits. When Paul O’Neill started as the CEO of Alcoa, he announced that he wanted to make the company the safest one in the US. Instead of only wanting to hear reports of already occurred injuries and fatalities, he wanted employees to give out suggestions and ideas how to improve safety. That eventually changed the whole company culture and employees started to also share their other improvement ideas. Alcoa ended up notably increasing its profits based on ideas that came from their employees. Not only that, but they also learned how to adapt and learn from failure and make better processes.
Occupational safety affects company reputation and productivity
Companies of all forms and from all fields should really take a look at their occupational safety. Adapting and learning from failure is crucial if a company is looking to improve processes in the VUCA world.
All the previously mentioned reasons are enough to drive a possible change needed at a workplace. We are also living in an era when anyone can update their social media profiles of bad management experiences or post a review of the company to Glassdoor.com. No company should want a possible future recruit to read online that the workplace is not investing in occupational safety. In that scenario it might lead to a situation where the HR department receives less and fewer applications from good candidates.
It is evident that even the smallest acts of not taking care of employees' health and safety are a huge concern for companies both big and small. But the concern should not initially come from complaints in social media or recruitment sites. Willingness and interest to invest in occupational safety should strive from a sincere interest in employees’ safety and health and therefore also company’s productivity and growth. This again can be turned into a huge asset in improving employee retention and hiring the best people.
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