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In order to address injury prevention in the workplace, one question some in upper management may try to tackle is this: How much higher should a company’s profit margin be to offset a serious work-related injury or fatality and still earn a profit on the work project? Sometimes dealing with plain numbers and real-world scenarios helps us get a handle on harder-to-address problems, but the answer isn’t always so clear cut.
Even for researchers and statisticians in occupational safety and health, this question isn’t an easy one to answer. We can try to calculate the cost of a serious injury through proxy measures like workers compensation, hospital bills, and prescription drug costs, but there are other costs that are less quantifiable because there is no bill or tabulation of charges: the loss of productivity due to worker absence, time and resources expended to train/transfer other workers, and the emotional toll and mental strain as a worker is rehabilitated. To calculate the cost of a worker fatality is even more complicated – how does one place a numerical value on a life, particularly to that person’s family, friends, and colleagues? What about the cost to a company or brand in terms of reputation?
Perhaps another way to approach this issue is to focus instead on the strategies that companies can employ to prevent serious injuries and fatalities in the first place. A recent white paper from the Campbell Institute, Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices, outlines some of these strategies from six Campbell Institute member and partner organizations.
One of the study recommendations is to get everyone on the same page in terms of defining “SIF potential” and determining SIF-potential events. The organizations in the study classify a near miss as having SIF potential if it could have resulted in a serious injury or fatality if not for certain barriers or countermeasures, or if one factor around the event had been changed. While there are differences in the processes and people who determine SIF potential across organizations, using a risk matrix to score the potential severity and injury probability of a given event is one best practice followed by Campbell members. Events that score high in the risk matrix are flagged as having SIF potential, and organizations can take steps to figure out how to prevent such events in the future.
Companies share the lessons learned from high-potential events with the workforce, on an as-occurred basis or through regularly scheduled communications. The overall goal is to encourage proactive reporting and to keep everyone vigilant.
Organizations in our study provide additional tips on coaching, training and communication for SIF prevention. Several organizations incorporate SIF prevention as part of general safety training or as a special topic for global safety week or safety stand down. They also focus on tools to mitigate and proactively report SIF potential events.
One of the major findings of this study is that “Organizations cannot focus all attention on simply ‘fixing the worker’ to prevent serious injuries and fatalities. Instead, attention should be paid to changes that can be made at an organizational level to the safety management system.”
We have learned that executive leadership support and sponsorship is crucial for successful SIF prevention implementation. This process has also become a way to engage senior leadership and get them involved in safety discussions and global safety days.
Even though some may comprehend safety better through numbers, too much focus on the financial bottom line can misdirect our efforts. If we instead concentrate on preventing injuries and fatalities from the outset, we don’t have to worry about how much higher our profit margins have to be – the value of safety is already there.
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