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"Prevention Pays" Report

Posted on Aug 31, 2011
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A fence at the top of the hill, not an ambulance at the bottom: “Prevention Pays: Solutions to Help Workers and Businesses Thrive”

Preventing workplace deaths, injuries, illnesses, and diseases protects workers, first and foremost. But ensuring the health and safety may also be in the best interest of employers.

Worksafe’s just-released report, “Prevention Pays: Solutions to Help Workers and Businesses Thrive,” tallies the costs – human, financial, and social – of failures to protect workers’ health and safety on the job. We profile innovative solutions from different sectors. And we offer a range of common-sense recommendations to keep California’s workers healthy and safe, help employers succeed, and support the communities depending on both of them.

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Download the report (PDF, 8174.1K)

Whenever changes are proposed to improve workplace safety and health, there is often a common refrain from critics that implementing reforms will be costly to businesses. “Prevention Pays” demonstrates that the exact opposite is true more often than not. As one source says:

Businesses (in the United States) spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses – expenditures that come straight out of company profits. But workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent. In today’s business environment, these costs can be the difference between operating in the black and running in the red.

Prevention is not about “controlling” a hazard, so it’s still there. Prevention means avoiding harm. It’s the public health approach of aiming for the most effective solutions. They protect the most people by preventing or eliminating hazards.

In workplaces, much time is spent debating if something “must” be done, rather than using the evidence that prevention pays. As the report says,

It’s time to shift from a focus on “the problem” and how bad it is, to a prevention framework that emphasizes solutions and “fixing” problems. It’s time to make the goal clearer by using the word “prevention” instead of “controls.” It’s time to use the word “health” along with “safety.” It’s time to make the rewards of prevention more consistent, wide-ranging, and initiated by more employers and workers.

In California, the costs are at least 1.4 percent of the approximately $1.82 trillion in the state gross product for 2009.

The 6,632 work-related fatalities reported in [California] between 1992 and 2002 cost $5.4 billion alone, in direct and indirect costs. Those are just immediate injuries that led to death. The costs of occupational disease, injuries, and illnesses – which shorten and change lives – are estimated to be at least $20.7 billion a year in California.

The numbers are impressive and sobering. Some employers already recognize the hazards behind them. With workers and advocates, businesses in multiple sectors have improved how their workplaces function. Examples include:

  • Ergonomic improvements that increase productivity while saving money and avoiding harm to workers;
  • Eliminating toxic chemicals and so also the  expenses for protective gear and pollution control equipment; and
  • Research to practice (R2P) processes identity hazardous work and develop alternative methods and tools.

The over-arching conclusion is hard to miss. As the Director of Corporate Health Solutions for Methodist Hospitals in Gary and Merrillville, Indiana noted, “It is better to put a fence at the top of a cliff than an ambulance at the bottom. Companies are so bottom-line driven, prevention can be a hard sell, but it is always a better solution.”

This is true for the workers whose lives, bodies, and livelihoods are on the line. It’s just as true for the companies who employ them, and the communities counting on both.

Download the report (PDF, 8174.1K)

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