Never has our title phrase rang more true than when it comes to workplace health and safety. It is a classic case of “pay me now, or pay me later” and occurs all too frequently and with increasingly serious consequences in our workplaces, even in the field of forensics and crime labs. We hope to convince you that following the former instead of the latter makes more sense, for your bottom line as well as your employees.
When we view the whole picture of employee and workplace health and safety, you can quickly see that it gets very complex. People from many different agencies in addition to your employees may become involved. Depending on your facility focus, your location, and whether your business is in the public or private sector, entities that may exert jurisdiction over you can include OSHA, EPA, FDA, state fire marshal, state environmental department, and others, right down to local environmental and emergency management officials.
To get started let us give you a few sobering statistics that we hope make an impression. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008 data there are about four million work-related injuries per year.1 That equates to around 11,000 injuries per day! There were 5,657 work place fatalities in 2007. That is almost sixteen deaths per day or one every hour and a half! If we include deaths from occupational illnesses, which are about ten times the fatalities, we have one work-related death every eight minutes. It is hard to fathom these numbers living in 2011 and considering all the information and knowledge we have compiled leading us into the 21st century.We are the first to admit these statistics are a little disheartening. But, they are also motivating, pushing us to work diligently every day to bring the numbers down, and reinforcing why we do what we do.
Why So Many Illnesses, Injuries, and Deaths?
Recently, Charles Jeffress, the former Assistant Secretary of Labor, commented in a Public Broadcasting Service Frontline interview that our current laws, particularly penalties for violations, are ineffective and that companies find it less burdensome (read more profitable) to take the risk of not having safety programs in place than comply with law.2 This is disturbing, but not the only reason for those rueful statistics. There are about 30 million employers in the United States, but only about 1.5 million have to report to OSHA. In addition, the Occupation Safety and Health Act, basically unchanged since its inception in 1970, does not cover public employers in states without Safety and Health laws, leaving about 8 million U.S. workers with no legal protection at all.3 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration—employing fewer than 2,000 inspectors—struggles to enforce the laws.And, too often the penalties and fines levied for violations are trivial compared to the cost of implementing technologies and programs consistent with OSHA standards.4 Which circles back to the statement by Mr. Jeffress and explains why it is true.