If a workplace is safe and healthy, everyone can get on with their work effectively and efficiently. In contrast, if a workplace is disorganized and full of hazards, process breakdowns, injuries and sickness absences are inevitable. The pain and direct loss of earnings suffered by workers in these circumstances is often matched by reduced productivity at the enterprise.
Despite this obvious truth, as employers around the world carefully plan their business strategies, many overlook the vital issues of safety, health, and working conditions. The global human and financial cost of this is massive: according to the ILO, every year there are more than 250 million work-related accidents and more than 160 million workers become sick through exposure to hazards in the workplace. Furthermore, 1.2 million workers die as a result of workplace accidents and diseases: as these numbers show, the human and social cost of work-related accidents is unacceptably high.
In economic terms, it is estimated that annual losses resulting from workplace accidents and disease may be as high as 4 per cent of gross national product (GNP) in some countries. The direct and indirect costs of a poor health and safety system include:
• Medical expenses;
• Lost working days;
• Reduced production;
• Loss of compensation for workers;
• The time/money cost of training and retraining of workers;
• Equipment damage and repairs;
• Low staff morale;
• Bad publicity;
• Lost contracts because of non-compliance.
In the past, accidents and ill health at work were seen as an inevitable part of production. However, times have changed and there is now a range of national and international legal standards on safety and health at work that must be complied with. These laws and standards reflect widespread agreement amongst employers, factory owners, workers, and governments that the social and economic costs of workplace accidents and diseases must be lowered.
It is now understood that these costs create a drag on business competitiveness, reduce the economic welfare of the country and can be avoided through simple but consistent workplace action.
Risks to health and safety are risks to business sustainability and viability
Action to improve safety and health in the workplace does not need to be expensive. However, like improvements in operations or sales, it needs to be taken on as a long-term commitment by workers, managers, and their representatives: it cannot just be dealt with in the week before a factory inspection or visit by a Brand Compliance Inspector, nor can it simply be ignored because of a recession. The prevention of work related injuries, ill health, and workplace-related deaths must be a continuous part of day-to-day business activity.
As well as requiring continuous attention, effective occupational safety and health demands a joint commitment from workers and employers. Workers and employers have to be ready to respect well recognized safety and health principles and be ready to maintain, follow, and constantly re-evaluate the policies and practices they establish. This level of joint commitment can only be built if workers, supervisors and managers work together to create a safety and health system that all understand and believe in.
SCORE Training Module 5: Safety and Health at Work: A platform for productivity
This Module aims to provide SME participants (both employees and managers) with the knowledge and understanding they need to create and benefit from a safety and health system tailored to the realities in the enterprise. To do this, the module is divided into five chapters:
. Defining workplace hazards and risks
. Cooperation on safety and health management
. Your occupational safety and health policy
. Putting the OSH policy into practice
. Evaluating progress on safety and health