The cost of protecting worker health and safety must contribute to a company’s profitability, not challenge it.
But with the current slumping economy, it’s increasingly difficult for companies to see bottom-line value in their health and safety programs.
We all know the financial costs of failing to provide for worker safety: fines, shutdowns, loss of confidence in the company, as well as myriad direct and indirect costs associated with injuries, equipment damage, environmental damage and production losses. We also know that a distressed economy doesn’t change the fact that companies are required by law to have and maintain programs that effectively protect their workers.
But that’s not the focus of this article. Instead, I want to take a look at program costs and value from the perspective of program development, implementation and maintenance and ask the question “How do company’s get the most value out of their safety program dollars?” You have a limited budget to spend on this, so how do you make it contribute directly to your profitability and stop seeing it as a necessary but often begrudged item on your expense sheet?
Creating, implementing and maintaining an effective health and safety program are three separate functions that rely heavily on the competence, organizational, writing and communication skills of your health and safety professional. If you have a full-time health and safety professional, he or she can focus exclusively on your company’s safety issues, whereas if your company has made the decision to hire a part-time consultant, their intermittent focus on your company may actually increase your risk and your costs over the long term. And when responsibility for the health and safety program are added to the already full-time responsibilities of an operations manager, safety can fall to the periphery. So right away, the value a health and safety program can create is directly affected by the focus it gets from the person to whom it is assigned.
But there’s a much more compelling example of how spending choices for your health and safety program dollars affect your profitability.
Your occupational health and safety professional is the critical link between your company’s due diligence responsibilities and the people who are potentially putting themselves in harm’s way to do their jobs. With such an important role, it’s interesting and distressing that many safety professionals see the creation and maintenance of health and safety program documents as their top priority. Some take great pride in putting their personal stamp on their company’s policies and procedures, when in reality, their real value lies in interacting directly with workers at the work site, monitoring and supporting them in identifying and removing hazards, and keeping management informed of hazards that need their attention before those hazards begin interfering with worker safety and corporate profitability.
Health and safety program documents are important as a resource, to state what is expected and provide guidance on how to work safely. They need to be well researched and written to be a useful resource, and they need to be kept current with your operations and regulatory requirements, but not at the cost of direct implementation in the field. To illustrate this point, here is a salary survey of various certified health and safety professionals.