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OHS from a Strategic Perspective Series - Lesson 3

The key to understanding the importance of health and safety in your workplace is to comprehend the significance it plays in your overall cost analysis. STACS Inc. has developed this week long series guided towards assisting you in quantifying the costs of workplace injuries and comparing it to the costs of developing a successful health and safety program.

Lesson 3: The Cost of Workplace Injuries continued…

Brought to you from: Occupational Health and Safety in Ontario by Nora Rock

Fines and other Penalties:

“In cases in which an MOL investigation of an accident reveals non-compliance with the OHSA, the employer may face fines. “

“Current maximum fines for non-compliance are $25,000.00 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations. A victim fine surcharge can be added to these fines to reflect the aggravating factor of having actually caused harm (as opposed to non-compliance discovered, for example, in the course of a routine investigation).”

Impact on Public Image:

“The potential impact of workplace accidents on a business’s image in the marketplace was touched on in the introduction to this chapter. Principled consumers may hesitate to purchase goods or services from companies that they perceive as dangerous places to work.”

“From an investor perspective, it can be personally distasteful to feel that one’s money is supporting an employer who is indifferent to the safety of its workers. But a poor safety record may have other, subtler effects on the attractiveness of a company to potential investors. Poor performance-demonstrated by failutres to protect worker safety-may be interpreted by business analysts as evidence of mismanagement in general. Why didn’t/couldn’t the business identify the risks that led to a serious accident or predict the consequences? Do managers lack awareness of workplace conditions? Are supervisors ineffectual? Does the company employ incompetent labour? Is there a morale problem (either one that caused the accident, or one that flows from it)?”

Costs to Employees, Families, and the Community:

“It is also worthwhile, from an ethical standpoint, to touch on the costs of workplace injuries to workers, their families, and the community. The $59,000 estimate of the injury cost for an average injury quoted above measured only those costs borne by the employer, not those borne by employees, their families , or the community.”

“A 1995 report by the Austrialian Industry Commission found the following:

Past research indicates that injured employees bear about 30 percent of the total costs of workplace injury and illness which include loss of income, pain and suffering, loss of future earnings, medical costs and travel costs. The share of costs borne by injured employees rises sharply with the severity of the outcome while share borne by their employer falls. (p. 18)

Australia has a worker’s compensation system quite similar to Ontario’s. “

“The WSIA scheme is designed to ease the financial impact of workplace injuries on individuals, but it does not eliminate that impact entirely.

Examples of the types of non-reimbursed costs that individuals may incur after an injury can include:

  • Costs related to injuries not currently recognized as such by the system (for example, harm in the form of stress or pain);

  • Costs related to the inability of some disabled individuals to reach their full potential (consider, for example, a young woman who is completely disabled while working at a summer job in an automated bakery in between university terms while she is studying to become an scientist for missions in outer space- she will receive WSIA benefits designed to partly replace her income as a bakery worker, not as an astronaut);

  • Costs related to harm to interpersonal relationships (for example, the strain on a marriage from an injured man’s post-accident depression may lead to a financially disastrous divorce); and

  • Intangible costs related to the loss of activities that contributed to the injured worker’s quality of life (for example, the loss of the ability to play a sport or musical instrument).”

“Costs that may be borne by the family or community include:

  • Costs related to a spouse cutting back his working hours to care for a wife who is injured at work;

  • Costs related to having to hire domestic help to handle tasks one used to be able to complete (for example, housework or child care);

  • The loss, by one spouse, of the ability to pursue a joint hobby (for example, ballroom dancing or ecotourism); and

  • The loss of the community that results from the injured worker’s reduced ability to participate in activities that benefit the community (for example, volunteer work, political activism, performance in community theatre, and so on).

Socially conscious employers will be motivated to prevent injuries because they realize that the impact of those injuries has a ‘ripple effect’ that extends beyond the workplace and reaches into the personal lives families, and communities of those who have dedicated their efforts to the company’s success.”

HARD LESSONS: Is there No Such Thing as an ‘Accident’?

“DuPont Canada, a company with a strong safety record in recent years, embraces worker safety as one of its core values. In a summary on its website of the company’s safety beliefs, the following bold statement is made; ‘All injuries and illnesses are preventable.’

This belief and its expression are fairly common in health and safety circles. In fact, Ontario’s own WSIB recently launched an injury reduction advertising campaign entitled ‘Road to Zero’. However, while workplace accidents and injuries have decreased dramatically in the period since about 1980, a zero accident rate continues to lie well beyond the reach of most large employers.

Some safety specialists are critical of approaches to safety that proclaim that there is not such thing as an accident. These critics argue that ‘zero tolerance’ policies may encourage investigators to focus on assigning blame instead of focussing on developing prevention strategies designed to prevent a repeat incident.”

“Workplace accidents have mostly predictable causes, including:

  • A lack of safety policies and procedures in the workplace;

  • Insufficient training/education about safety;

  • Insufficient effort put into identifying, investigating, and minimizing workplace hazards;

  • Insufficient effort put into adapting safety policies, procedures, and training when new processes or equipment are introduced; and

  • Failure on the part of workers, event where training and procedures are sufficient, to follow safety procedures.

Occasionally, however, unique circumstances cause an accident to happen in a way or for a reason that could not have been predicted easily, even in a workplace where safety is a priority. An example might be an accident, on e of the causes of which is an unusual natural phenomenon, like a severe hailstorm.

Where an injury arises out of a ‘freak’ accident, criticism of workers or supervisors based on a philosophy that ‘there are no accidents’ can be unhelpful as well as potentially damaging to morale.

While it is important to investigate the root causes of unexpected accidents, it is important to make a distinction between finding causes and finding fault. An emphasis on ‘zero tolerance’ for accidents combined with an investigative process that focuses on fault on a philosophy that ‘there are no accidents’ can lead to a climate in which workers and supervisors hesitate to report ‘near misses’, and may even conceal actual accidents.”

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