Years ago, I recall myself in class paying rapt attention, while my lecturer navigated us through her bittersweet experience, in a construction company, she had worked with, before securing a job in my institution.
According to her, the company had been awarded a very attractive contract, to construct a massive edifice and this had been ongoing for months, but she inferred their safety culture was nothing to write home about. None of the advisory recommendations reported by the HSE team were duly acted upon, especially in the area of procurement and purchase of personal protective equipment(PPE). Minor accidents kept reoccurring due to unavailability of personal protective equipment, but all were neglected . And whenever she approached the project supervisor to lay complains, his impromptu defense speech would always end with “safety is expensive and we can’t afford it”. In conclusion, she said the company met its waterloo, when a worker was reported dead after he slipped and fell while working at the top of a scaffold of about 30ft without a fall protection equipment.
This news went viral, like a pandemic and attracted a lot of Legal, Moral and Economic reactions which brings us to the three main reflect and epicenter of HSE effects in a company:
Legal- the family sued the company to court and then demanded compensation for the death of their son. It didn’t end there, law enforcement agencies visited, external investigations were carried out, and more discrepancies and incompliancies where exposed which incurred more fine.
The Moral effect was that the incident left the workers depressed and derogated, many went on French leave. The few that stayed were not effectively productive, as their morale became low. and finally the most evident -the economic impact, more losses were incurred both directly and indirectly, cost of hiring a lawyer, compensating worker’s family, manhour loss and lost time injury. Their public image and reputation was largely marred, the contract was withdrawn and company ran bankrupt.
This incident story is where the popular HSE maxim if you think safety is expensive try accident” is highly appreciated.
So what exactly would we say is the frenemy here? Is it safety or profit making? Absolutely not! It is the misconception, because in the real sense, the aforementioned “duo” are family that always looks out for each other.
It will interest us to know that on the Job accidents and illnesses take some two million lives and cost the global economy an estimated 1.25 trillion dollars( 1,250,000 million dollars) annually and account for some four percent of annual gross domestic product(GDP), (International Labour Organization 2020). The International Labour Organization, in a very recent post on their website revealed that in parts of the developing world, fatality rates soar to four times those in the safest industralized industries. What more is left to say to justify the claim that safety is an indispensable ally to profit maximization and not the reverse. And that with improved safety culture we could actually reduce loss in our businesses.
In a nutshell, we can conclude that Health and safety policy is aimed at ensuring workers safety as a sustainable means to afford productivity and profit maximization, because come to think of it, can we place a price tag on life? it is invaluable, so why use a wait tag for what can be used to protect life? Safe work, saves more! Healthy employee results to a wealthy company.
Thank you and GOD bless.
Ugwu Terrelbasil Onyekachi
Media/Publicity Dpt., HSEAI