Making Dollars and Sense from Safety for Small Businesses


You will excuse the pun, but there is a lot of cents, actually sense, and dollars in paying attention to safety in the small business workplace. I know, I know you have heard it all before. But if we (small business) are going to be able to power our way through the current economic turbulence, aided and abetted by a weak Ontario economy, more trouble in Europe, and now a dramatic drop in world oil prices –   then small business owners must ignite their innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to find creative ways that can sharpen their competitive edge and build profit margins.

An often overlooked opportunity sits right in front of our eyes: our own people, our employees. The adage is simple – keep employees safe – and in turn, they’ll produce more and contribute to more profitability and business success.

In 2010, the Harvard Business Review ran an article called “What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs”. The article illustrated that there is clear value in these programs and that the return on investment can be as high as six dollars for every one dollar invested.

A safe and healthy workplace is, quite simply – good for business. It protects workers from injury and illness, lowers injury and illness costs, reduces absenteeism and turnover, increases productivity and quality, and makes the business a more appealing prospect for employees and customers.

Businesses who limit their view on health and safety as just ‘the cost of running a business’, miss out on savings that have the potential of contributing significantly to their bottom line.

Admittedly, the harsh reality for many small business owners is that it’s all about survival in the trenches and cash flow; some can barely eke out a living for themselves and their employees. That is certainly not lost on me. But, at the same time, just one critical workplace incident can wipe out an entire business – and potentially lives as well. Knowing how to protect your people could make all the difference.

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has calculated the average compensation cost of a claim to be approximately $19,000. This is just the direct cost. Associated costs could total three to ten times that amount. In other words, preventing an injury could save your business $19,000 to $190,000.

Potential liabilities include an increase in premiums; Ministry fines; damages to reputation, sales losses and general goodwill; equipment damage; decreased morale and productivity; and possible legal action.

Taking these costs into account can help businesses allocate resources where they’ll provide the greatest return. Investing in health and safety is a solid business strategy that can protect your people while improving profitability.

Smart thinking, for sure, but it’s not always easy to act on. A core challenge facing many businesses is just getting a handle on the obligations outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and access to information that simply and clearly explains what’s expected of them. The OHSA states that employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect workers, provide information and instruction, and to ensure that workers properly use or wear the required equipment.

Companies employing between 6 and 19 workers, must have a health and safety representative. If you hire workers (including family members) or are an independent operator in construction, you must register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). And businesses are obligated under law to make sure new workers know their rights before they start the job. Further, they must provide a thorough introduction to the workplace, all the safety features, rules and general information. Every worker and supervisor in Ontario must receive health and safety awareness training.

Just like any other part of operating a business, safety has to be managed. Someone in the organization needs to champion safety, and everyone needs to be involved.

The good news is that health and safety doesn’t have to be that onerous.

Informal walkabouts by management, quick staff meetings, a handwritten memo, notes in a log book, and staff safety champions are all viable and easy to deliver strategies that demonstrate proper diligence if an inspector calls. Regularly conducted “quick talks” on health and safety with staff – aided by using safe operating procedures, checklists or Material Safety Data Sheets as topic guides – build safety routines into business operations.

And, there’s plenty of support online. For example, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), a health and safety solutions provider, offers newly developed resources for small businesses, all available at no cost. If you are a manufacturer, work in agriculture or horticulture or are a service provider, chances are that you are a member of this organization. Just a click away, these resources can help busy people who are short on time become compliant and integrate health and safety into their daily business practices in the easiest way possible. For more information check out www.londonchamber.com or www.wsps.ca/smallbusiness.

At the end of the day, it should never be a coin toss – safety vs. success! Safety and success go hand in hand. Business is guaranteed to win by keeping safety in the forefront of workers and by building a culture where safe work practices are a clear expectation. I suspect that most of us, me included, take the view that workplace accidents will never happen in my business. But the fact is they do and sadly we read about them all too often. Let’s try to not be the one we read about next. Safe workplaces just makes dollars and sense!

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