Safety professionals know that injuries cost a lot of money. Between medical bills, workers’ compensation, and other expenses, the National Safety Council estimates that employers collectively spent more than $160 billion on injuries in 2020.
Unfortunately, prevention isn’t cheap either, and resources such as time and money are always in limited supply. Safety professionals may need to create a business case showing the benefits to get approval for a new engineering control or safety modification. Even when showing a positive return, the change might not get approved for a year or more due to initial investment costs.
When evaluating these costs, remember that while the company pays the costs of injuries, employees pay the price. Cuts and scrapes may not impact workers too much, but many workplace hazards (especially those that would be expensive to eliminate with engineering controls) have the potential to literally change employee’s lives.
Conditions such as permanent hearing loss from noise exposure, amputations from machinery, soft-tissue injuries that require surgery, or eye hazards that cause blindness are all potentially life-changing incidents.
When making a case for an investment that would eliminate or significantly reduce worker exposure to a hazard, try pointing out that direct costs might be easily quantifiable, but the price that employees pay cannot be assigned a dollar value. The employer should be willing to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from paying that price.
Getting workers on board with safety initiatives may be easier if you remind them of the price they pay. An outdoor writer named Bradford Angier once wrote that the true cost of something is the amount of life that you trade for it. He was talking about fancy clothing and houses, lamenting that people traded many hours of their lives for things they couldn’t enjoy. However, a similar concept could be applied to taking risks on the job.
You want to protect workers from injuries, and that requires eliminating risks. When employees take risks, whether bypassing a machine guard or leaning to the side while working on a ladder, they put themselves at risk, often in an attempt to get work done faster.
Ask them to think about what kind of injuries could happen and why they’re taking a risk. If the consequences could include a hospital visit or a few weeks in a cast, that’s a lot of “life” to trade for saving a few moments on the job — and that’s the real cost of taking risks or skipping safety procedures.
Helping employees understand risks and take steps to protect themselves requires training, often on areas for which OSHA doesn’t require training. The Training area of the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANGEMENT SUITE can help, with courses on mandatory topics as well as many others to raise employee awareness and involvement. This tool can help you deliver training with online courses, classroom materials, and many other assets.