Worker safety is a top priority – and a non-competitive issue – in any industry. Most governments share innovations and best practices with in their countries to encourage sustained worker safety enhancements throughout the entire industry. Data show that these efforts have yielded real, measurable results.
Often companies have found that by investing beyond the minimum regulatory requirements stipulated for worker safety it has helped directly and indirectly to increase productivity and there by improve profitability.
According to a recent survey in the UK, 88 % of the industrial accidents are due to human error and a further 10% due to mechanical failure and 2% due to negligence. Therefore most of the injuries and accidents in workplaces are preventable, and their prevention will only add to the employers’ gain and improve employee satisfaction in the work place.
Sri Lanka has had a distinguished history of promoting the concept of ‘worker safety’ in work places dating back to 1896, when the first legislation to protect minors, who were mostly in the graphite industry, was introduced to the Mines and Machinery Act. Subsequently the first labour medical officer was appointed in 1937 under the Factories Ordinance legislated in 1942.
The early part of the story of safety in our country was mainly confined to policing the compliance of safety standards. The thrust of the Department of Labour’s effort was to ensure the monitoring of occupational safety and health under a medical officer and another on safety at the workplace under an industrial engineer.
Nevertheless, the value addition was mainly through the provision of advisory services on industrial safety and safeguarding and improving working conditions by providing lab facilities, research services and information through worker education and training of human resources, particularly in factories. Some time ago the ILO reported that there were over 270 million accidents in the world, while industry-related illnesses afflicted 160 million workers. This was at the cost of a whopping US$ 1.2 trillion.
Therefore, the onus of worker safety is with the employer. The cost advantage of preventing loss of many man-days due to injury or due to work related illnesses is huge. Perhaps the model employer who added the 6th S to the 5S programme needs to be emulated. Work place productivity is not the sole province of better methods and the quest for quality, but has to champion the cause of safety in the factory floor, operation of machines, protection of limbs, eyes and other organs susceptible to toxic or other industrial hazards. Money spent on promoting safety and preventing industrial accidents is therefore an investment for the long term sustainability of a business.
In this context protecting the health of the worker, providing a secure work place free of risk and providing a comfortable work environment would no doubt contribute positively to the enhancement of productivity and quality. Good housekeeping is another dimension of this drive to achieve a safe and productive work environment.
Many of us may be familiar with the Japanese 5S method: Clear and clean up the clutter in the work place; put everything in its place and have a place for everything; standardise the practice; review the Practice; and train on a continuous basis. Good housekeeping therefore not only serves to reduce unnecessary effort and time, but also makes the work place clean, tidy and safe to work in. It is vital particularly for a manufacturing environment.
As the famous Japanese entrepreneur Matsushita once said: “Profits should not be a reflection of corporate greed, but profits are the rewards of the firm if it continues to provide true value to its customers, to help its employees to grow and to behave responsibly as a good corporate citizen.”
What is important here is that this outlook is based on an acceptance that a firm does not function in a vacuum; that its success is dependent on the fulfilment of certain obligations to employees, customers and finally society.
(The writer is CEO of HR Cornucopia.)