A Look at the Tough Issue of Balancing Work Safety & Efficiency

by JRO on January 29, 2014

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Many businesses today must maintain a delicate balance between work safety and work efficiency. On one hand, it’s important to work as quickly as possible to maximize return on investment and keep clients happy but on the other hand, it’s not wise to work so fast that basic safety precautions put in place to protect you and your business go by the wayside. Industries in which this is most keenly felt include manufacturing, production, transportation, shipping, construction, landscaping and medical. Any profession where safety and efficiency goes hand in hand can experience this constant battle between safety and work efficiency. The key here is balance.

When Safety is Compromised

As many as 2.2 million people die each year from occupational accidents, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) as outlined by HESAPRO. With emphasis on the importance of implementing health and safety procedure in the workplace, research has shown this not only has positive impacts on productivity but it also can be a key to excellence in business. When safety procedures are not followed properly, however, this can lead to significant losses not just in the incidents themselves but in the associated costs. The losses can cost businesses thousands of dollars a year depending on the size of the company, not to mention property, damage, lost employee productivity and equipment damage. Workplace safety in many occupations is also a requirement by law put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which since its inception in 1971, has seen a decrease in workplace fatality rates among employees of 62 percent as well as occupational injury and illness rates by 42 percent.

Benefits to Balance of Productivity and Safety

More links between the implementation of health and safety programs and their positive impact on worker productivity are emerging. This can lead to reduced sick pay and compensation claims, as well as reduced absenteeism and staff turnover. Studies have shown that employees perform better when they are healthy and motivated to work, leading to higher productivity and thus higher profits for the company, says the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.


Saying workers must implement proactive safety procedures at work to minimize possibility of injury is all well and good. But how do you actually get people to be safe, especially when the boss is breathing down their necks to complete the job quickly? Some say incentives work best as a way to boost productivity and safety while on the job. The key is to balance the incentives with the expected outcome, which is increased productivity with an eye on safety. Incentives can include anything from cash rewards and gift cards to improved performance indicators like employee of the month distinctions. But while incentive programs can enhance worker safety programs, they shouldn’t take the place of or minimize underlying safety problems, says the National Safety Council. Some say incentive programs may actually have the opposite effect of promoting a safe workplace by encouraging employees to cover up potential safety risks for fear of losing a reward or being reprimanded, with peer pressure to avoid reporting incidents on the rise. OSHA’s view is that, while it has no problem with employers implementing incentive programs for employees who demonstrate safe work practices and hazard reporting, it strongly discourages programs that offer workers rewards for not reporting injuries or bonuses for higher-ups who suppress injury rates. One solution put forth by OSHA and other experts is to emphasize education as the backbone in creating programs that encourage and promote positive behavior.


Ian Harrison is a freelance writer concerned with business development, management, operational safety and excellence, employment law, business disputes and other related areas.

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