This country and the Occupational Safety and Health Act are founded on the sound belief that workplace safety and health add value to each business, to every workplace, and to our lives. We’ve made preserving the health and protecting the life and well-being of every American worker a value in our country, and all Americans believe that workers should return home from their jobs as whole and healthy as they left. Our mission is to do everything we can to assure that employers and workers fulfill this expectation.
Our starting point is the fundamental belief that safety and health on the job add value. To your business. To your workplace. To your life. While we and a few enlightened employers and workers believe this, not everyone embraces this idea. OSHA has a new communications program to drive home this message. It will underscore the truth that protecting people on the job is in the best interest of everyone—companies, coworkers, and families.
Safety and health efforts not only pay off in dollars; they also make a lot of sense. This is the foundation for every message that OSHA communicates.
My overarching goal or operating principle for OSHA is to demonstrate leadership in job safety and health by addressing the value concept. There are many ways for us to do that. But one of the most important is to keep up the drumbeat to articulate or show the value in as many ways as possible.
The value for businesses is straightforward: focusing on safety and health programs is the right thing to do and it saves money. When workers stay whole and healthy, employers experience lower workers’ compensation insurance costs, reduced medical expenditures, decreased layout for return-to-work programs, less faulty product, and lower costs for job accommodations for injured workers.
Of course, these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Indirect costs also drop as expenses of lost productivity, costs of training for replacement workers, and overtime expenses decline. Fewer injuries and illnesses also lead to higher morale, reduced turnover, and declining absenteeism. In addition, businesses benefit from enhanced corporate reputations as caring employers.
Safety and health add value to the workplace as well. Every workplace is a community. No one wants to be part of a community or a company that doesn’t treat its workers well. And everyone in the larger community knows who the top employers are.
The best companies build a brand that is synonymous not only with an excellent product, but also an outstanding corporate ethic and work environment. In fact, whether large or small, companies that are recognized for excellence in products or services are also recognized for quality work environments. Good corporate leaders and ethical businessmen know you can’t have one without the other. Higher morale, greater productivity, and reduced turnover are also benefits of a strong commitment to worker safety and health.
One company that has recognized this is Delphi Corporation, an automotive products manufacturer spun off from General Motors. J.T. Battenberg, III, Delphi’s CEO, recently told a Department of Labor productivity conference that Delphi and the United Auto Workers decided together to become a leader in employee safety and health. Delphi placed a joint emphasis on employee safety and health and quality, reducing injuries and illnesses by more than 8 percent over eight years and cutting defective parts from 812 per million to 23 per million over seven years. The result is that productivity has climbed—including nearly a one-third increase in the past three years alone. After 10 years, Mr. Battenburg said having "a caring company, where healthy employees report in a safe work environment every day, has certainly enabled us to establish higher productivity and better quality."
From a worker’s viewpoint, everyone wants to make a contribution through his or her job, yet the primary purpose of work is to fulfill the American dream. Safety and health allows workers to maintain their incomes, provide for their families and fulfill their dreams.
Getting hurt or sick is not just physically painful. On-the-job injuries can significantly reduce income, increase stress, and hinder a full family life. Not only may the worker be unable to provide income, but he or she may be unable to fulfill family responsibilities and may also require additional help from family members.
While our message is simple, the task of articulating this message is difficult, but the implications are profound. In America, we know safety and health add value. To business. To workplaces. To lives. Our charge is to realize it.
John L. Henshaw
Assistant Secretary of Labor for
Occupational Safety and Health