Extending safety off the job pays

Safety is an idea. Like truth and beauty, it is elusive to recognize and define. We do know, however, what the absence of safety looks and feels like. American workplace deaths and injuries are at an all-time low. Yet unsafe workplaces still proliferate. It a more cynical time, workplace hazards were seen as a cost of doing business.


Safety is an idea. Like truth and beauty, it is elusive to recognize and define. We do know, however, what the absence of safety looks and feels like.

American workplace deaths and injuries are at an all-time low. Yet unsafe workplaces still proliferate. In a more cynical time, workplace hazards were seen as a cost of doing business. Today, they can be the cost of undoing business. Workplace deaths and injuries have a direct cost on workers and on the business — in lost wages, in lost productivity, in retraining replacement workers, in lowered workplace morale and in higher worker compensation costs.

The companies that understand safety make it a part of the daily culture. The companies that don't keep Alan McMillan's mission moving forward.

As president and CEO of the National Safety Council, McMillan has attacked the issue of worker safety from two fronts: What companies and workers can do to stay safe on the job, and extending that corporate message of safety to the time when workers are off the job.

"One message has been there for years: any well-run, profitable, productive business operation has to have an effective safety and health culture as an integral part of the business," McMillan said. "Corporate executives pretty much understand this. Whether it's integrated into every decision is still an issue. It's not that the challenge has gone away, but the understanding of the importance is there.

"The emerging new part of the equation is the incredible part of the costs we see as it relates to safety and health of workers off the job," he said. "That's still a big bridge to be crossed. CEO's who get it are beginning to build a bridge to that issue."

Part of that bridge is an emerging understanding that if a worker is injured in a weekend accident in the home, while participating in athletics, or while driving, the cost to the company is still the same. A pulled hamstring or broken ankle will limit a worker's productivity no matter where the injury occurs.

"We're focusing on the fact that the culture of safety has to be 24/7, that the leaders on this have to be large, medium and small businesses and their executives," McMillan said.

To do this, many companies institute off-the-job safety training. Some offer the National Safety Council's defensive driving course to their employees and to their families, recognizing that if a child or spouse is injured, there is an effect on the worker as well. Other companies offer smoking cessation programs, fitness training, blood pressure screening and stress reduction programs. Some let employees borrow safety equipment such as gloves, safety glasses or ear plugs to protect the workers when they are working on do-it-yourself projects at home.

The cumulative effect is to make safety a pervasive idea in all parts of the worker's life — and to bring that worker back safely each day.

The Council offers training, literature and consultancy to assist companies in driving a message of improved safety to the workplace floor. They have a long-standing partnership with OSHA to encourage safety efforts, and to recognize plants for their outstanding safety efforts.

For those companies whose leaders haven't embraced safety, plant managers and engineers can help lead the charge forward. Data will help make the case," McMillan said. "Then look for the natural allies at the plant level - the safety officers, the unions and in human resources. The Council and its local chapters would be excited to be participants in that process."

The National Safety Councilwill host the 93rd National Safety Congress and Expo Sept. 21%%MDASSML%%23 in Orlando. Preceding this year's Congress will be the XVIIth World Safety Congress, being held for the first time in the United States.

For more information about the National Safety Council, visit www.nsc.org .

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