Increasing safety efforts key to lower occupational injury costs

Ray Pickup

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 23 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The estimated national annual price tag of occupational injuries and illnesses is $250 billion, according to a recently released study funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). That figure is $31 billion more than the direct and indirect costs of all cancer, $76 billion more than diabetes and $187 billion more than strokes. What is even more concerning is that the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses have risen by more than $33 billion (inflation adjusted) since 1992.

At Workers Compensation Fund, we not only see the direct impact on families when loved ones are injured on the job, but also the economic toll on businesses when workplace safety doesn't get the attention it deserves.

According to OSHA, costs associated with occupational injuries and illness can comprise as much as 5 percent of a company's total costs. Preventing workplace injuries can save companies thousands of dollars on their insurance premiums and keep companies functioning at full capacity.

Keeping workers safe requires a consistent, diligent effort by employers, who have many competing priorities. But it makes great business sense. Employers who maintain safe work environments enjoy lower insurance premiums, the respect and appreciation of their employees and the satisfaction that they have spared others the pain and sometimes tragic difficulties that frequently accompany serious accidents. When a business owner or other senior executive becomes a champion of workplace safety, results improve significantly.

This year, the Utah Legislature passed a resolution that designates the week of June 23-29 as Workplace Safety Week. During that week, many companies and organizations throughout Utah will be celebrating and encouraging workplace safety.

"Working together to make a safe environment for all is our goal," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, who sponsored the resolution. "The cost of an accident, whether financial, emotional, and/or physical, is an injury to all citizens of Utah. Workplace Safety Week is an added push to enhance safety in the workplace. Our slogan and goal is to have no workplace accidents during the week of June 23."

If you are wondering where to start, the following ideas may be helpful:

Obtain senior management's commitment to a safe workplace

Organize an employee safety committee

Develop an incentive program with monthly, quarterly and annual goals

Require drug screens for all new hires, after every accident and for all employees on a random basis

Investigate every accident to determine the cause and make the appropriate corrections to avoid a similar accident in the future

Implement and enforce safety rules

Establish a mandatory seatbelt policy

Mayne is a tireless champion of Utah workers and workplace safety. It's my personal hope that employers will take Mayne's challenge and increase their attention to workplace safety and help keep Utah workers safe and on the job.

Ray Pickup is the CEO of Workers Compensation Fund.

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