The “Cost” of Workplace Safety

On December 9th, 2013 a 46-year-old worker was killed when a 12,000-pound steel bridge arch beam he was spraying fell and crushed him. An investigation by OSHA found that his employer, Boston Bridge & Steel Inc., failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent the beam and three similar beams from falling while workers painted them. This was a preventable death.

In addition to the hazards associated with the unstable beams, the employees, who were cleaning and spray painting the beams, also lacked adequate respiratory protection against vapors generated during the spray painting. The workers, who wore half-face respirators, had not been evaluated to determine their medical fitness to use respirators and had not been supplied with the correct respirator filters. The employees had not been informed and trained about the hazards associated with chemicals used during spray painting.

Upon further inspection, OSHA also found additional hazards including: an unguarded grinder, excess air pressure from a cleaning hose, flash burns from welding, electric shock and fire hazards, missing electrical knockouts, damaged access ladder, slips and trips, and snow on an emergency exit route.

Boston Bridge & Steel Inc. was fined $72,450 for 13 serious violations.

The Real Cost

Employers often argue workplace safety is too expensive to implement, and the return-on-investment (ROI) is not enough to justify the cost. Safety Professionals know this is a false argument. According to the National Safety Council, when considering all industries nationally, the average direct and indirect claim cost for a lost time injury is over $28,000, and a fatality averages $910,000.

Clearly, workplace fatalities are financially costly, but family and friends carry the real cost of the lost worker. You cannot replace the priceless lost time with a loved one.

Many employers are motivated to implement workplace safety programs to avoid fines and legal trouble. Although these are valid reasons, employers should establish workplace safety programs because it is the right thing to do. Employers should have a sense of moral obligation to their employees and ensure they are providing a safe and healthy workplace.

Where to Start

Most business management classes do not  discuss workplace safety. As a result, managers do not usually know much about workplace safety and health. Luckily, there are many online training options available. OSHAcademy Safety and Health Training offers courses and programs specifically designed for management. This would be a great place to start, and you can access all of their training material for free. You only pay a fee if you want to document your training. Once management has a grasp on the basics, they should form a safety committee made up of employees, supervisors, and management. A safety committee needs focused leadership and the necessary support to accomplish their mandate.  OSHAcademy also offers courses and a program specifically for safety committees.

Work Safe!