Random safety inspections help rather than hinder business
A system of unannounced inspections by health and safety regulators can not only improve injury rates in the organisations visited but also has no adverse effect on their bottom line, a US study has found.
Against a background of complaints from businesses about red tape and governmental antipathy towards health and safety regulation – both in the US and the UK – the study, published in the journal Science last week, challenges the notion that health and safety is bad for business.
The researchers spent ten years (1996-2006) comparing more than 800 work sites in California, half of which were subject to random inspections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (the US equivalent to the HSE), and half of which were not chosen for inspection.
They found that randomly inspected employers experienced a 9.4-per-cent drop in injury rates and a 26-per-cent reduction in injury costs (compensation, etc). No evidence was found that these improvements came at the expense of employment, sales, credit ratings, or firm survival.
Michael Toffel, a professor at Harvard Business School and one of the three authors of the study, told Business Week magazine that if OSHA inspections conducted in all 50 US states had the same value as those studied in California, inspected businesses would reap around $6 billion (£3.8 bn) in added value – not including other savings made by avoiding lost production through sick or injured employees.
Toffel said his interviews showed that injuries decrease after inspections because the inspectors talk to operators and make sure they understand what the problems are and then discuss ideas for fixing them. He said: “It focuses the minds of managers to create solutions, like installing blade guards around a saw, or railings on elevated walkways.”
Peg Seminario, safety and health director at the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) said: “[The study] tells us that protecting your workers on the job and keeping them safe is good for workers but also good for business. What’s too costly is not addressing injuries and illnesses. We can’t afford not to protect people.”
In the US in 2010, 3.8 million occupational injuries and illnesses were reported, costing the economy an estimated $250bn-$300bn (£158bn-£190bn). In the same year, 4690 US workers died. The AFL-CIO says OSHA is seriously under-resourced, with just one inspector for every 58,945 workers.
The maximum penalty OSHA can impose for serious violations is $7000 (£4425), and for wilful violations, $70,000 (£44,250). However, in 2011, the average penalty was just $2107 (£1332).
Download: October 2019 Legislation Update
Although Brexit has made the legislative outlook uncertain, the need for health and safety compliance and best practice remains as clear as ever. Download this free legislation update to understand all the latest guidelines, laws and regulations. The eBook covers:
- Health, Safety and Brexit;
- HSE and Local Authorities;
- The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices;
- Drone safety – Air Navigation Amendment Order 2018;
- Key cases in recent months;
- and much more…