SC Safety Engineers Caution Employers About Workplace Safety Cutbacks

Dec. 2, 2008
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) South Carolina Chapter is cautioning employers against cutting back on workplace safety in time of economic difficulty and is encouraging them to explore creative ways of generating temporary and long-term savings in safety and training expenses, while still ensuring that the safety needs of employees and safety regulations are met.

During economic downturns, employers seeking to cut expenses may target variable operating costs such as travel, training and safety. According to the ASSE South Carolina Chapter, although some safety expenses can be delayed or deferred, some safety expenses are critical.

“Some safety related purchases and testing can be deferred, but other purchases, such as those for employee personal protective equipment like hardhats, safety glasses and respirators, are critical to operations,” points out Laura Comstock, president-elect of the ASSE South Carolina Chapter.

She notes that it especially is important for companies to show support for their employee safety during challenging economic times. Employee morale may be low and employees may be carrying additional workloads, such as working additional hours or doing unfamiliar tasks due to cutbacks, making them more prone to injury and accidents.

ASSE President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHM, also recently spoke to occupational safety and health students from Oklahoma State University and the surrounding area to reiterate the fact that investing in safety pays and contributes positively not only to a great working environment, but to a business’ bottom line. He noted that 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 Goldman Sachs study in Australia showed valuation links between workplace safety and health factors and investment performance. It found that companies that did not adequately manage workplace safety issues underperformed those that did and that workplace safety and health factors have potentially greater effectiveness at identifying underperforming stocks, Brown noted.

“In order to remain viable long-term, a company must maintain a solid safety program and strong safety performance even through difficult times,” says Comstock. “The most successful companies in the long term also have the strongest safety performance.”

ASSE Region VI Vice President Jim Morris agrees. “Money cut from safety programs now could have an enormous cost later. This can be from fines, [lost] employee morale or worst of all, employee injury or even death,” Morris said. “There are better and smarter ways to protect the bottom line. Good safety is good business.”

The chapter offers tips on how employees can take measures to help companies save money on safety expenses by:

  • Properly using, cleaning and caring for protective equipment such as hardhats and respirators;
  • Reusing gloves whenever possible for as long as possible;
  • Keeping track of safety glasses and reusable hearing protection; and
  • Following safe working procedures and practices to prevent injuries, related downtime and expenses such as costly fines.
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 some simple solutions.” These solutions, she notes, include using online or electronic safety training services, rather than face-to-face classroom safety training, even if employees and employers prefer classroom settings. “Even if a company doesn’t have a high tech system, having employees view a simple presentation may meet the company’s need for safety training,” says Comstock. “Employers that have safety and training professionals on staff can save on costs related to training by conducting training on-shift and at the jobsite to prevent overtime or taking employees off the job for extended periods.”

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