Workplace prevention programs require upfront investment, but they can save money in the long run. (Shutterstock illustration)

An ‘Ounce of Prevention’ Is a Good Rule to Follow – Even With Recession Fears

Opinion: a workplace safety expert offers tips for preventing injuries and saving expenses

Back Commentary Jan 19, 2023 By Letitia Heshmat

Dr. Letitia Heshmat is the founder and president of Roseville-based Work Health Solutions. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Letitia Heshmat)

Injuries incurring at your workplace may seem inevitable, and to a certain degree this is true. But analyzing the number of injuries that occur and the severity of those injuries should also matter to a company that prioritizes meeting deadlines and staying on track in a competitive environment. So how should a company plan to minimize the frequency and intensity of injuries on the job? 

The answer may not be as hard as you think — prevention. Yes, we have all heard the saying from Benjamin Franklin — “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These are amazing words of wisdom from someone in the 1700s that still hold true today, especially in the workplace. 

The staggering statistics

What Franklin noted is that it’s much smarter, and cheaper, to prevent something from happening rather than having to fix it once it has occurred. It’s probably safe to assume that Franklin did not realize how much, in the future, American businesses would be spending to help injured employees and could not have even imagined what that amount equals in today’s economy. For instance, The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index 2020 reports that serious, nonfatal workplace injuries are costing U.S. businesses more than $1 billion dollars each week. 

And, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, a recent economic analysis suggested that traumatic occupational deaths and injuries cost the nation $192 billion annually, taking into account both direct medical costs and indirect costs. 

Indirect costs, which many businesses don’t often take into consideration, can also be devastating. According to OSHA, these include: training replacement employees, accident investigation and implementation of corrective measures, lost productivity, repairs of damaged equipment and property, and costs associated with lower employee morale and absenteeism. Add to that list the cost of buying replacement equipment if damages cannot be repaired. Other hidden costs are recruiting and providing benefits for replacement workers, and the fact that the company is now paying twice the benefit costs for one position.

Prevention programs are the key 

With prevention measures in place, these unfortunate statistics can be changed. Within these staggering numbers are three of the top 10 injury causes — handling objects, working in awkward positions and repetitive motions involving microtasks. These injuries could all be lessened by implementing an injury prevention program designed by analyzing work environments to determine changes that can be made to avoid the most common injuries likely to occur in your workplace, providing education about proper ergonomics, and offering stretching and strength-building exercises. 

Instead of being reactive with your health care services after an injury occurs, employers can potentially avoid the injury altogether with injury prevention specialists who are certified athletic trainers that use the sports medicine model of care predicated on prevention and early intervention.

Investing in safety can equal big savings

As we head into a possible recession, it is important to understand this concept as most employers’ first instinct will be to cut costs on safety protocols. But rest assured, cutting back on these initiatives can and will lead to higher costs. There can also be a significant loss of employee confidence in your ability to keep them safe, and once employees doubt if you care about their well-being, it is a tough road trying to rebuild that trust.

Companies that invest in injury prevention programs to bolster workplace safety and health can expect to reduce fatalities, injuries and illnesses; lower medical expenses and workers’ compensation costs; and make significant improvements in productivity and financial performance. In fact, one study estimates that for every dollar spent on safety protocols in the workplace, injury prevention returns can range anywhere from $2 to $6. Who wouldn’t gladly spend $1 now to ultimately save up to $6? But unfortunately, when faced with a recession, it is hard to fully comprehend the long-term benefits of prevention as many employers will be tempted to simply cut safety measures to experience an immediate reduction in expenses. 

It takes real foresight to understand that, in the long run, the cost of injury prevention is far less than the cost of an injury. Here is another old saying that is relevant — “Penny wise and pound foolish.” Neglecting to implement prevention measures may save a few pennies now, but it can cost you plenty of pounds later. 

Dr. Letitia Heshmat is the founder and president of Roseville-based Work Health Solutions, providers of concierge-style occupational medicine for large-scale employers nationwide. She has nearly two decades of health care industry experience and previously served as director of the occupational health clinic at Stanford University.

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