Does Occupational Health & Safety Affect Your Business?

Desiree Tibbs
Occupational Health Program, Coordinator
Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 375-4189

Every day across this county millions of Americans go to work outside of the home. They go to their place of employment to make money, to be able to pay their bills, to be able to take care of their families. Most of them never think about the different ways their employer works to keep them safe. Many of them never think about the ways they themselves can help keep their workplace safe. It never crosses their mind. However the employees overall health and mindfulness can mean the success or failure of the very business they need in order to take care of their family and get a head in life. A healthy workplace culture is the foundation of a successful organization, with success being measured in several different ways: Rates of absenteeism, incidents of occupational injuries and employee engagement and satisfaction.

Sadly it comes as no surprise that Montana has one of the worst workplace safety records in the nation. According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry 2014 report our workplace incidence rate is 47 percent higher than the national average. Our duration of claims stretches much longer than most other states. And our average cost per medical case for workplace injuries is 55 percent above that of the rest of the nation. In Montana, injured workers stay out of work an average of 23 days longer than workers in the rest of the country. The associated costs are significant.

Workers who stay out of work longer are less likely to ever return to their positions. They are more likely to develop serious complications and psychological issues. They are also more likely to lose traction in their careers-setting back their lifetime earnings. Companies suffer, too. Those additional 23 days are expensive in terms of workers' compensation and health care payments. They also result in lost productivity and additional costs to train new employees to take over injured workers' duties.

In Montana, workplace tragedies stretch across genders, age groups, industries and geography. They affect every business in the form of higher workers' compensation rates. They devastate far too many Montana families, personally and financially. Reversing these trends is vital for the financial, emotional and physical health of our citizens. A serious workplace injury or death changes lives forever - for families, friends, communities, and coworkers too. Human loss and suffering is immeasurable. Occupational injuries and illnesses can provoke major crises for the families in which they occur. In addition to major financial burdens, they can impose substantial time demands on uninjured family members. Every person who leaves for work in the morning should expect to return home at night in good health. Can you imagine the knock on the door to tell you your loved one will never be returning home? Or the phone call to say he's in the hospital and may never walk again? Ensuring that husbands return to their wives, wives to their husbands, parents to their children, and friends to their friends - that is the most important reason to create a safe and healthy work environment.

It begins by creating safer workplaces. Workplaces with comprehensive safety plans and safety committees that routinely work to improve a company's overall safety. Workplaces that put safety first, whether they're baking pies, running heavy equipment or doing data entry. But most important of all, it requires focused attention from workers themselves. Each of us is responsible for creating a culture of safety, following rules, wearing personal protective equipment and improving conditions when necessary. These are little things that are often overlooked; it only takes a momentary lapse or little short cut to change a life forever. As a state, we've had far too many of those.

It's time we all put safety at the top of the "this is important" list.

Whereas employee safety should be every company's top priory it isn't the only reason to improve your business practices. There are many benefits to structuring appropriate job descriptions, offering extra training, doing pre-employment screenings and even offering onsite consultations.

If a worker is injured on the job, it costs the company in lost work hours, increased insurance rates, workers' compensation premiums and possible litigation. Productivity is lost when other workers have to stop work to deal with the injury. Even after the injured employee has been sent home, taken to the clinic or hospital, other employees may be distracted or need to take time off from work in the aftermath of the incident. Even a single injury can have far-reaching and debilitating effects on your business.

Any business knows that employee absenteeism is a major obstacle. When you create a healthy and safe workplace, you reduce this issue in several ways. By budgeting for safety improvements and making safety part of your operational plan, you engender trust. By involving employees in safety decisions-through reporting, committees, walk-throughs and meetings-you show that their opinion matters to you. By following through on their input and improving safety, you prove quite tangibly that you care about their well-being. Workers typically respond by working harder, showing more pride in their jobs and remaining loyal.

Time and again, companies that put safety first turn out higher quality products. In some cases, that's because a safe workplace tends to be a more efficient one, free of debris and tangles of cords. In other cases, it's a matter of focus. By working in a clean, efficient environment, workers are able to reduce distractions and truly focus on the quality of what they do. The results?
Better products that create customer loyalty, bigger margins and increased sales.

In these ways and others workplace safety is about much more than legislation. It's about creating the kind of productive, efficient, happy and inspiring workplace we all want to be part of. It's about creating a highly profitable company.

Every business should have the same goal, and that goal should be to change the historical pattern of work in Montana as one of high risk, high injury and high cost. Every worker should go home at the end of the day safe, in one piece.

References: 2014 Montana Department of Labor and Industry report 2014 The national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 2017 WorkSafeMT

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact Desiree Tibbs, Program Coordinator at Marcus Daly Occupational Health Services, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!


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