Which is more important? Workplace safety or profits?

Its a new world out there

Some businesses never sent people to work from home, told they were “essential businesses.”  Soon more will reopen as weeks and months go by.  That’s a relief for most of us from the combination of boredom and lack of social interaction.  Even if we were safer at home as we became experts sharing screens in Zoom.

We have new worries and responsibilities to protect those who return to the office.

With this new environment of the invisible virus lurking somewhere on a surface or in a throat nearby, we will assign super cleaning responsibilities and certainly enforce social distancing rules, hand washing and temperature checks.   But it is easy to envision some entrepreneurs and senior management wondering whether we go overboard for safety as a balance of cost and labor efficiency. Or does a leader just order a return to the normal we knew only six weeks or so before but with a little extra care for cleanliness?

Common sense or possible protection of life?

Much of workplace safety is just common sense.  But there is a natural tension between economy of operation and provision for safety for employees in this age of the invisible killer, and we in management must weigh the resulting risk to the enterprise more carefully than ever before.

How your board of directors should be involved

[Email readers, continue here…]   Good boards of directors have a committee of the board to deal with “audit” issues, which should include analysis and recommendations to management about workplace safety as a part of a broader issue of risk management.  After all, the board and management together are responsible for keeping the company alive and employees safe, protecting the corporate asset on behalf of all stakeholders – including shareholders, employees, and customers.

Safety in a product manufacturing environment

Especially in a manufacturing environment, there are laws created by OSHA and other agencies, and even by those who have experienced the result of earlier accidents that impose upon all companies the hard-earned lessons from the past.

Too many rules and laws?

Many of us groan when reading or hearing of these detailed, burdensome rules and laws.  Yet workplace accidents are harmful to health and safety for all, to morale, and they ultimately cause financial hardships upon the company, whether in the form of lost productivity, increased insurance cost, or debilitating lawsuits that inevitably follow.   And now we add the invisible killer to the mix and worry even more.

How about the tiny startup?

No company, even the smallest, is immune to safety issues.  In this computer keyboard-driven office world, programmers, accounting and office personnel, and many others are exposed to carpel tunnel, back, and leg and neck problems, just by sitting in place.  A single cough into a keyboard or worse yet in the kitchen can be deadly in this new environment. And nowadays the risk of injury, worker compensation insurance claim, lost productivity, and lawsuit are only slightly less in the office than on the factory floor.

Some of us will still travel, adding new risks

And how do you protect your employees who return to travel by air or by car? Are you and they aware of the procedures for extra care around unknown people and new places as they travel? And are your travelers aware of how to inform insurance companies, use their credit card companies and local resources in the event of an accident or sickness while traveling?   How about the extra risk when traveling out of the country? To whom do they turn when in unsafe environments, let alone after an accident or sickness, when isolated from their local infrastructure?

Too many questions, probably never previously addressed

None of us likes to think of these issues which detract from the focus upon growth and customer service.  But these very issues can derail the best of organizations at the worst of times.  At the very least, management and its board should discuss the exposures to safety risks and how they might be mitigated in advance.

And then there is our newest salutation: “Stay safe out there.”  As if we shouldn’t have worried about this before the world turned upside down.

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2 Responses to Which is more important? Workplace safety or profits?

  1. Berni Jubb says:

    In this issue Dave touches on a lot of areas but some that for a moment have no resolution. The faint of heart will not get on a plane for example nor will they travel through airline hubs until a lot of issues are resolved (e.g. if you arrive in a foreign country will you be quarantined). Some people will not return to work perhaps ever without some clarity about the environment they will be exposed to.

    A return to any sort of reasonable economy requires a return of public optimism and a return to a level of health care security.

    The best many companies can do today is point thermometers at foreheads of asymptomatic people. What is the definition of asymptomatic? The CDC tried to put out a set of guidelines which then got promptly castrated. There is no international coordination that allows for some framework to cooperate and when news cycles are quiet the US disconnects from the WHO or threatens trade wars with China.

    But enough of the easy stuff – how do companies get back to work before a global vaccine is available. There is an interesting little company which is HIRING like crazy and does not feel the need for social distancing inside the work place. The company is called Curative and the story is told well here by the excellent Danny Fortson of the Times/UK at “Danny in the Valley” podcasts: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9yc3MuYWNhc3QuY29tL2Rhbm55aW50aGV2YWxsZXk/episode/NGU1YzkxZjktMjkwNC00NTRlLTgwNzItYzFlZjA2OWVhNDNl?ved=0CAkQzsICahcKEwjI8eLGwsDpAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQBA&hl=en-CR .

    It helps that they are a rapid start up in the right place at the right time and happen to be working on a huge rollout of COVID-19 testing. The company is now doing about 1/4 of the testing for LA and is expanding into the rest of the country with an air force contract: https://dot.la/coronavirus-rapid-test-curative-los-angeles-2645906983.html?utm_campaign=post-teaser&utm_content=jye65akv.

    But other than the interesting entrepreneurial tale the reason I am posting it is the description of how they hire and daily test every employee. Even with the way they do it it is still not 100% pandemic resistant but it is a solid process that allows them to operate inside a framework with a safety level that would be acceptable to any employee.

    Meat packing plants in the midwest could learn a thing or two – for now they point thermometers at asymptomatic people and declare “you have no symptoms come on in”.

  2. John Armstrong says:

    Workplace Safety OR Profits??

    Not a Choice – has to be both.
    Measure success by ‘accident free days’ – remember?

    The world is not a safe place – but we can take measures to maximize safety without losing productivity.

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