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Management Trends

Workplace Safety – Is It a Benefit or a Curse?

by Bill Effron, President, Alco Print Finishers

November/December, 2006
Workplace Safety – Is It a Benefit or a Curse? By Bill Effron, President Alco Print Finishers The terms ‘health, safety, and environmental compliance’ or even more so, a visit from a compliance officer, can cause many a company president to shutter. Attend almost any national meeting and you will hear at least one horror story of an unpleasant inspection by a governmental agency. Since its inception in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has helped various companies and individuals who have openly disregarded the value of worker safety programs understand the errors of their ways. Regulation development and compliance inspections by the agency are not the leading factors in improved safety records experienced by many companies today. The development of a comprehensive safety and health program with local management support has probably had more to do with improving worker safety than any single inspection.

Do not misunderstand; OSHA regulations, inspections, fines, and compliance agreements have served a very important part in improving workplace safety. When employees and managers work together to identify workplace hazards and develop methods to reduce or eliminate those hazards, the program has a better chance of long-term success. Sadly enough, there are still companies that appear not to recognize the benefits of a safety and health program within the workplace.

In the printing, publishing, and allied industries, during the period October 2005 through September 2006, OSHA made 120 inspections, wrote 514 citations and collected $251,194 dollars in penalties. Table 1 outlines the top ten standards cited for the printing, publishing, and allied industries for that time frame.

Table 1 – Top Ten Citations for the Printing, Publishing, and Allied Industries

Standard *

No. of Citations

No. of Inspections







Hazard Communication





Lock Out/ Tag Out





All machinery





Powered industrial trucks





Mechanical power-transmission apparatus





Electrical equipment





Wiring methods, components, & equipment










Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)





Portable fire extinguishers

* (29 CFR 1910. xxx)

Using Hazard Communication as an example, common citations might include an employer’s failure to provide a written hazard communication program or the failure to provide a chemical inventory in the workplace - both of which are relatively easy to fix. The OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, outlines the requirements of the written program. While the Code of Federal Regulations is a bit tedious to read, all of the requirements are available online at www.access.gpo.gov for free. Simply creating a list of hazardous chemicals within the facility and then including that list in the written hazard communication program can fix the chemical inventory citation.

Some citations are easy to fix, others are more difficult; but if you take the $251,194 dollars in penalties and divide that by the 514 citations written in 2005-2006, the amount per citation equals approximately $500. How would your company use that $500 to improve worker safety?

The Role of OSHA
OSHA aims to insure worker safety and health by working with employers and employees to create better working environments. Since 1971, OSHA has helped to cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has doubled from 58 million workers at 3.5 million worksites to more than 115 million workers at 7.2 million sites.

Under the current administration, the agency has focused on three strategies: 1) strong, fair and effective enforcement; 2) outreach, education and compliance assistance; and 3) partnerships and cooperative programs.

Strong, Fair, and Effective Enforcement – a strong, fair and effective enforcement program establishes the foundation for OSHA's efforts to protect the safety and health of the nation's workers. OSHA seeks to assist the majority of employers who want to do the right thing while focusing its enforcement resources on sites in more hazardous industries - especially those with high injury and illness rates.

Outreach, Education, and Compliance Assistance - outreach, education and compliance assistance enables OSHA to play a vital role in preventing on-the-job injuries and illnesses. OSHA offers an extensive web site at www.osha.gov that includes a special section devoted to small businesses as well as interactive eTools to help employers and employees address specific hazards and prevent injuries.

Cooperative Programs - several of OSHA's cooperative programs enable employers, labor unions, trade or professional groups, government agencies, and educational institutions that share an interest in workplace safety and health to collaborate with OSHA to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

Why Develop a Company Program
Elements of a company-specific program may include: Lock Out/ Tag Out, Hazard Communication, Personal Protective Equipment, and Hazard Recognition. Accident prevention is another element of a comprehensive safety and health program. Accidents are more expensive than most people realize because of the hidden costs. Some direct costs are obvious - for example, Workers' Compensation claims that cover medical costs and indemnity payments for an injured or ill worker.

But what about the indirect costs? Those include the hiring and compensation for a replacement worker, repairing damaged property, investigating the accident and implementing corrective action. Less apparent are the costs related to schedule delays, added administrative time, lower morale, increased absenteeism, and poorer customer relations. These indirect costs are not so obvious until we take a closer look.

Studies show that the ratio of indirect costs to direct costs varies widely, from a high of 20:1 to a low of 1:1. OSHA's approach is shown here and says that the lower the direct costs of an accident, the higher the ratio of indirect to direct costs. The following chart demonstrates a quick way to estimate the annual cost of accidents in your workplace

OSHA's Ratio of Indirect to Direct Costs

Source: Business Roundtable, Improving Construction Safety Performance: A Construction Industry Cost Effectiveness Project Report, Report A-3, January, 1982.

Where does your company fall on the graph? There are several tools available to help assess the impact of occupational injuries and illness on your company’s profitability. It uses a company's profit margin, the average cost of an injury or illness, and the indirect cost multiplier to project the number of sales you would need to cover those costs. The answer would make a great topic for the next company safety meeting.

The Next Step
Once the company safety program has been developed and initial implementation completed comes probably the most difficult step – keeping it going year after year. It not only takes a dedication of monetary resources but also, a commitment of personnel starting with the very top of the organization.

The Foil Stamping and Embossing Association (FSEA) recently established a safety committee within its Board of Directors. That committee is charged with helping member companies develop, implement, and maintain their safety programs. Future InsideFinishing articles will explore the key elements and activities necessary to see worker safety improve in your workplace. Future benefits to FSEA members may include sample program elements, benchmarking studies, and consulting services.

Bill Effron is currently the president of Alco Print Finishers in Tulsa, Okalahoma. Alco provides a full range of graphic enhancements to commercial printers in the region. Prior to purchasing the Alco organization, he worked for over twenty years as a Health, Safety, and Environmental Protection consultant. Bill has worked for a wide variety of companies, including major corporations and an internationally known University, providing safety and health expertise to all levels of the organization on loss prevention, risk management, process safety, crisis management, and business disaster recovery.