I often feel compelled to defend the benefits and history of progressive EHS programs and practices. The necessity to do this arises out of a plethora of challenges: non-responsive employees, resistant partners and the common (and unnecessary) battle between production and safety efforts.
The largest and most obvious defense of such EHS programs and practices is that they can prevent accidents, injuries and fatalities. After all, injuries and fatalities can result in extensive financial costs, both direct and indirect; OSHA and other jurisdictional citations; and negative impacts to employee morale and the company safety culture, which in turn can make employees even more susceptible to future accidents.
In order to forecast the probable future effectiveness of EHS programs and practices, we must consider the historic effectiveness of occupational and environmental health and safety programs. In other words, let's break it down by the numbers:
Declining Deaths and Injuries
According to the National Safety Council, between 1912 and 1998, the rate of accidental work deaths dropped 81 percent, from 21 per 100,000 to 4 per 100,000. That decrease has led to many lives saved: In 1912, an estimated 18,000 to 21,000 workers died, while in 2010 – in a much larger work force producing many times the goods and services – 4,690 U.S. workers lost their lives, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While that number is still too high, it's at least a far cry from the upwards of 21,000 workers who died in 1912.
And it's not just fatalities that have declined over time – nonfatal injuries and illnesses have decreased, as well. According to BLS, a total of 6.8 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces during 1994, resulting in a rate of 8.4 cases for every 100 equivalent full-time workers. In 2010, that number dropped to 3.1 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses being reported among private industry employers, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.5 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers. That means the incident rate from 1994 dropped more than 50 percent by 2010.
Furthermore, BLS statistics show that a total of 1,315,900 cases involving days away from work were reported in private industry workplaces during 2003. In 2010, that number dropped to 933,200 cases involving days away from work. That is a decrease of 382,700 cases involving lost workdays.
A Progressive Stance
Although many technological and industrial advancements have contributed to these dramatic changes, the vast majority of these injury and fatality improvements are due to the progress of the occupational and environmental health and safety field. I believe these changes also are evidence of the progressive stance that has been taken by many senior managers in regard to employee safety.
Due to the continued professionalization of the occupational and environmental health and safety profession, I expect that these numbers will continue to improve (as they steadily have throughout history). As I have heard many times and as has been proven by the statistics captured above: safety programs and practices work if you work them.
- National Safety Council, Accident Facts 2008
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities
Jason Townsell, CSP, was named EHS Today's 2010 Future Leader in EHS. He works for AECOM as a program safety manager at San Diego International Airport.
(The postings on this site represent the author's personal opinions and statements and do not represent or reflect the opinions, positions or strategies of AECOM Technology Corp. or its subsidiaries or affiliated entities.)