Arguing that safety is not a good thing is like arguing against motherhood. The reality is that, beyond the obvious societal rewards of operating safely, there are significant financial benefits to establishing strong workplace safety systems. Reaping these rewards requires investment of both financial and human resources. Not all companies are willing to make this commitment despite powerful evidence that demonstrates the value of such an approach from some of the world's most successful companies.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there are six million U.S. workers injured per year at a total cost of more than $125 billion. During his service as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, John L. Henshaw advised, "Focusing on safety and health programs is the right thing to do; it saves money and adds value to the organization."
Paradoxically, corporate resistance to the embrace of a "safety culture" endures as costs associated with injuries and liabilities continue to skyrocket. There are indications, however, that a shift in thinking is underway. DuPont's reputation as a company that places a premium on safety has led to us consulting with thousands of global organizations from diverse industries. Through these engagements, we are seeing more examples of companies placing an increased emphasis on safety and, in turn, enjoying the positive resulting impact on productivity, costs and other key areas of business.
One of the largest pulp and paperboard manufacturers in North America faced a dilemma when its recordable injury rate stood at 9.5 per 100 full-time workers several years ago. Following a systematic evaluation of its safety practices and the implementation of a unified approach to safety in the workplace, the company saw its injury rate fall to 2.1 per 100 full-time workers -- a nearly 80% percent improvement. Incidents involving days away from work improved by 85% -- from 2.7 to 0.4.
Today, the company is recognized as a leader in safety performance within its industry and has numerous safety awards to its credit. Most importantly, from a business standpoint, productivity -- both in terms of processes and human performance -- has improved and resources have been aligned to improve operational excellence through accountability, auditing and training.
This example demonstrates a fundamental truth: Safety excellence means business excellence. No company can truly excel until safety becomes a way of life and a way of doing business. If industry shows it cares for the safety of its workers and the products they produce, the result is enhanced quality goods and services, higher worker productivity, higher plant production and, ultimately, higher corporate profits.
Another case in point is that of a German oil refinery that was suffering with an injury rate of 23.6 per 1000 full-time workers. The situation was quite serious and some of the incidents resulted in injuries that also contaminated the fuels the company processed.
In taking a long-term view of the problem, the refiner concluded that the cost of rolling out joint safety and quality control programs was low when compared to the cost of injuries and the cost of losing valuable product. Over a period of time, the company reduced its injury rate to 1.87, and, in the process, reduced the potential for costly damage to its fuel products.
Cost savings is only one variable by which businesses measure success. Equally as important is a company's ability to make sustainable changes in the way that people think and act within an organization.
A global technology business wanted to improve worker health and reduce lost workdays from work related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). Following a thorough assessment of the company's operating methods, ergonomic experts worked closely with employees and business managers to change manufacturing processes and improve the company's view toward safe ergonomic practice. The result was a 90% reduction in lost workdays over a three-year period and proactive application of improved ergonomics to new assembly lines. Equally impressive was the 15% increase in production volume that followed.
Each of these examples demonstrates the fact that when safety is incorporated as a strategic business value it serves as a catalyst for achieving excellence in business performance. The key to success is a commitment from the highest levels of the organization to value safety on the same level as cost, productivity and human resources, and wholly integrate safety into the full spectrum of business decisions and activities.
When a company makes the decision to invest in prevention and create a culture of safety, it helps save lives in the workplace as well as at home and in the surrounding community. Businesses must challenge each other both professionally and personally to hold firmly to the idea that safety is not optional when it comes to business or community conduct. Safety then becomes the core of a thriving business and a vital component of human value.
Jim Forsman is vice president and general manager of DuPont Safety Resources. The DuPont Safety and Protection platform focuses on providing safer lives for people at home, at work and in the world around them. The National Safety Council awarded DuPont its 2006 Green Cross for Safety medal, symbolic of corporations that have made safety a central part of their value system.