Worker health and safety - what will it take for business leaders to

So now we have BP’s deep water disaster to add to the 29 fatalities at Upper Big Branch in 2010.  The thousands of news unworthy events continue behind the scenes.  Behind every one of those incidents we know that there are 200 – 300 “close calls.” 

But as I consider the recent tragedies, I hold faith that you are out there somewhere.  A successful business executive leading a profitable company who routinely thinks about worker health and safety.  You somehow ”get it” and do so within the context of you and your board’s shareholder pressured focus on short-term earnings statements.   But are you thinking about worker health and safety out of a fear of regulatory citation?  Not likely - unless you’re suffering some amount of delusional paranoia.

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, claims recently that promulgating a final rule requiring employers to have Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2) is his current top priority. Great.  And if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?  Michaels has said he hopes such a rule will transform the safety cultures of companies around the country but in my 25 years in the industry, fear of an enforcement visit was never all too real.  Sure we (EH&S professionals) used it as best we could to get senior management to invest in EH&S, but I always came away feeling a bit like a snake-oil salesman.   Another rule with no enforcement will do nothing. 

Until business schools start including a much healthier dose of loss control subject matter in their programs, fear of enforcement will be the only motivator for health and safety.  As long as the odds of an OSHA visit are below 1 in 100 for most industry sectors, enforcement will remain a poor motivator for the one’s who don’t “get it.”

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