Although safety has evolved remarkably over the past 90 years, risks will always remain. In one high-profile accident in 2010, for instance, 29 coal miners died in an explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. So while the workplace is much safer than it was in 1922, that doesn't mean workplace dangers have been eliminated.
The bottom line is a work environment is only as safe as a company makes it. For today's businesses, there are some clear benefits to identifying policies and practices focused on a safer workplace.
- Fewer accidents and injuries equal lower worker's compensation and insurance costs. For example, the state of Delaware provides discounts of up to 19 percent for workers' compensation insurance for organizations that document a record of safety. "Investments in safety provide tangible financial returns and lower overall costs," says Tom Leamon, an adjunct professor of occupation safety at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
- In an era of instant global communication—including social media and the blogosphere—branding and image mean everything. "Nobody wants to wind up on the network news as an example of a company that doesn't appear to value worker safety," says Patric McCon, industry practice leader for manufacturing in risk engineering at insurance company Zurich Services Corp. Factor in increasingly influential best places to work lists and it's clear that a company's reputation affects consumer attitudes along with shareholder value
- Reputation also impacts human resources. The ability to attract and retain employees is heavily dependent on the overall quality of working conditions. Safe and ergonomically correct environments—whether in an office, on an oil rig or for those driving a truck—directly correlate to productivity and turnover. It's hardly a secret that higher turnover leads to increased HR costs and, potentially, greater difficulty finding desirable employees, says Jack Glass, principal consultant at J. Tyler Scientific Co., an environmental consulting and services firm.
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer based in West Linn, Oregon. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.