ASSE: Reducing or Ignoring Workplace Safety During Business Downturns Costly

Jan. 2, 2009
American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Warren K. Brown, along with ASSE members worldwide, caution employers against cutting back on workplace safety in time of economic difficulty.

“Workplace safety processes must be in place at all times,” said Brown. “They are even more critical during business downturns.”

Brown was referencing recent reports of some companies cutting safety processes hoping to reduce costs. He stressed that if companies believe they can save money by reducing or ignoring worker safety, they are mistaken.

“The ongoing positive results are in and have been for companies that have a strong safety culture and continually invest in and implement effective safety processes,” Brown explained. “Not only does their bottom line benefit positively, but their company reputation stays intact, employees stay safe and healthy reducing health care, workers comp, training and turnover costs, not to mention keeping customers, the communities they do business in, vendors and employees happy. Safety is good business.”

Other ASSE members and officers agree. President-elect of the ASSE South Carolina Chapter Laura Comstock said, “Some safety related purchases and testing can be deferred, but other purchases, such as those for employee personal protective equipment (PPE) like hardhats, safety glasses and respirators, are critical to operations.”

It is especially important for companies to show support for their employee safety during challenging economic times, she noted. “Employee morale may be low and employees may be carrying additional workloads, such as working additional hours or doing unfamiliar tasks due to cutbacks,” she said.

Companies must therefore maintain a solid safety process even through difficult times in order to be remain viable. The most successful companies in the long term, Comstock explained, also have the strongest safety performance.

Investing in Safety

“We realize these are tough times, but during economic down-turns, employers seeking to cut expenses may target variable operating costs such as travel, training and safety,” Brown said. “Money cut from safety processes now could have an enormous cost later; this can be from injury and health care costs, fines, lost production time, employee morale, or worst of all, employee injury or even death. There are better and smarter ways to protect the bottom line.”

The South Carolina ASSE chapter suggests employees can also take measures to help companies save money, such as: following safe working procedures and practices to prevent injuries, related downtime and expenses such as costly fines; by properly using, cleaning and caring for protective equipment such as hardhats and respirators; reusing gloves whenever possible for as long as possible; and by keeping track of safety glasses and reusable hearing protection.

Investing in safety pays and contributes positively to a company’s bottom line. Businesses spend about $170 billion a year on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses and pay almost $1 billion every week to injured employees and their medical providers. In addition, a recent investment firm study in Australia showed valuation links between workplace safety and health factors and investment performance. It found that companies who did not adequately manage workplace safety issues underperformed those that did.

Comstock also reminds employers: “When considering training reductions, some safety related training is driven by regulation, is time sensitive and cannot be delayed. Safety training related savings can be generated by streamlining and implementing simple solutions including using online or electronic safety training services, rather than face-to-face classroom safety training.”

“We need to work together during these difficult times, but reducing or ignoring workplace safety should not be a strategic or budget option,” Brown said. “The costs – both tangible and intangible – are far too high and hard to recoup.”

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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