Safety's Proven Upside

Investing in safety is good not just for the bottom line but also for society.

A friend of mine, who knows what I do for a living, makes it a point to kvetch about how costly and inefficient complying with safety protocols and regulations can be for his business. You’d think I’d get annoyed by the verbal jabs, but I use it as an opportunity to remind him that workplace safety programs don’t just protect workers; they protect the bottom line.

Statistics demonstrate that workplace safety programs actually save businesses money. OSHA advises that employers can reduce costs related to injury and workplace illness by up to 40 percent if they implement a safety and health management system, with some companies saving $3 or more for every dollar invested in their workplace safety program.

And if the return on investment isn’t enough, it’s worth considering the costs. The NSC reported that the total cost of work injuries in 2021 amounted to $167.0 billion. The cost per worker in 2021 was $1,080. Additionally, the NSC said businesses saw 103 million days lost in 2021 with 70 million of those lost days of productivity due to injury.

There’s a societal upside to workplace safety, as well. The National Academy of Social Insurance is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that studies the United States’ social insurance programs, Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers’ Compensation. Each year, the Academy releases its annual Workers’ Compensation report, which examines the most recent five years of workers’ comp performance.

This year, the 26th annual report showed that $60 billion in workers’ compensation benefits were paid in 2021, marking a 4.3 percent decrease from 2017.

There were various reasons for the decline in workers’ comp outlays, and the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic impacted the numbers during the 2017-2021 period, but safety was a key driver for the decrease, according to Bill Arnone, CEO of the Academy.

“As we prepare for the next crisis, states must take the proper steps to guarantee that all workers — regardless of race, gender, or immigrant status — face safe and decent conditions on the job to minimize workplace injuries and illnesses,” Arnone said. “When those protections are not enough, it is critical that states ensure adequate benefits to workers and their families to be distributed in a timely fashion.”

The bottom line is that safety and profitability are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually beneficial. Investing in workplace safety is not just a moral and legal obligation; it’s a strategic business decision that demonstrably yields measurable financial returns.

So, any time you might hear someone call into question the efficacy of investing in safety, take a deep breath and ask them why they are so keen on increasing their costs and reducing their returns? Because their line of reasoning simply doesn’t add up.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

David Kopf is the publisher and executive editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

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