Editor's Notebook: Making Time for Safety

I'm a gardener. I grow flowers, vegetables and herbs in a tiny urban yard. As a half-joke, I often give my busy friends a small jar of dried thyme, telling them, "Everyone can use a little more time."

Perhaps I should send my entire crop to Michigan, where employers claim a "lack of time" is the greatest hindrance to workplace safety education.

A recent survey of 700 business owners, operators and managers conducted by EPIC-MRA found 25 percent of respondents claimed that not having enough time was "the greatest barrier" in educating their workers on staying safe. Eleven percent cited employee turnover as the greatest barrier to providing workplace safety education, while 7 percent each blamed the availability of information and the cost of providing training.

Oh really? Let's take a look at these reasons for not providing safety training:

No time for training. A reported total of 1.3 million injuries and illnesses in private industry required recuperation away from work beyond the day of the incident in 2004, the most recent statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Median days away from work a key measure of the severity of the injury or illness was 7 days for all cases in 2004. Multiply 1.3 million by the average of 7 days, and you get 9.1 million days away from work. That's a lot of time by anyone's measurement.

If a day of training or several hours of training spread out over several months can prevent an employee from missing an average of 7 days of work following an occupational injury or illness, I'd say the time was well-spent.

Employee turnover. Some employers argue that there's no point in providing safety education for new employees because half of them leave after a few weeks or months anyway.

The fact of the matter is, "new" employees are one of the segments of the worker population who are most vulnerable to injuries and illnesses. According to BLS, employees with less than 1 year of service with their employer suffered 33.4 percent of the total injuries and illnesses with days away from work.

Even if those employees leave due to the injuries they suffered, because they found a new job or because they don't want to work for a company that won't provide adequate safety training the employer pays for the cost of that injury or illness.

The cost of training. What about the cost of injuries? The sixth annual Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety Workplace Safety Index, released in November 2005, revealed U.S. employers spent $50.8 billion in 2003 (the last year for which statistics were available) on wage payments and medical care for workers hurt on the job, according to the Workplace Safety Index.

"Keeping employees healthy and accident-free means the business is not paying for absent employees," said Ed Sarpolus, vice president of EPIC-MRA. "In Michigan's tight economy, our businesses should not be ignoring any way to improve their bottom lines."

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