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The business case for managing dangerous substances at work

Poor management of dangerous substances puts workers at risk and results in significant costs to companies. Here we look at real-life examples of how companies used preventive measures to improve their working conditions, keep workers safe and healthy, and boost their profits.

© EUOSHA/Vincent Tang – Fotolia

Invest in OSH to save money

Even small investments in occupational safety and health (OSH) can make a big difference to a company looking to reduce the risks posed by dangerous substances. Businesses committed to creating a prevention culture and providing the appropriate resources will enjoy the rewards in the long run.

According to a survey of 337 companies across 19 countries conducted by DGUV in Germany, the main effects of investing in OSH are:

  • reduced hazards
  • increased employee hazard awareness
  • increased compliance and reduced workplace accidents
  • improved corporate image and workplace culture
  • reduced downtime and fewer disruptions.

Investing in OSH also leads to financial benefits for companies – from fewer compensation claims, higher productivity levels, and reduced staff absence and turnover.

Eliminating baker’s asthma

Baker’s asthma is a well-known occupational lung disease caused by a reaction to flour dust. Around 1% of bakers in Germany are affected annually, costing the accident insurance association some €37.5 million a year and resulting in absences of between 16 and 35 days per employee. This video highlights the risks to bakers from flour dust and was created as part of an allergies prevention campaign for young bakers in France.

A case study[1] in Germany determined the cost to a bakery of an employee developing the disease as nearly €15,000 when taking into account salary, cost of work reorganisation and overtime costs for other employees. Since introducing preventive measures – a flour moistening machine, an exhaust system and health and safety training – the affected baker has not experienced symptoms of baker’s asthma since. What’s more, no other employee has developed it either.

A cost-benefit analysis showed that even only investing in a flour moistening machine can reduce baker’s asthma cases by 100%. As a result, it can increase profits – in this case by around €16,000 (Net Present Value) over 4 years. Technical and training measures should always be considered in parallel, as they improve general health and safety, along with staff motivation.

Preventing allergies caused by epoxy products

Another case study[2] looked at the costs related to workers affected by processing large amounts of epoxy resins, used to line large floors such as those in car parks. A construction company in Germany with 160 workers reported that 100 of them were showing slight symptoms. 1 worker developed such severe health problems that he had to leave his job due to the risk of allergic shock.

A cost-benefit analysis was done to calculate the cost to a company of an employee developing allergic shock and resulting in them taking half a year off sick. The analysis revealed the cost to be nearly €23,000 when taking into account salary, overtime for other workers, costs for temporary workers and administrative costs.

The analysis showed that introducing special instructions for new employees – a relatively cheap measure – could reduce costs to the company by 1-5%. However, introducing more expensive, but also more effective specialised protection measures (safe containers, special mixers, personal protection equipment, etc.) could reduce costs by up to 70%!

Prevention as investment

As these case studies show, investing in OSH is profitable. Furthermore, dangerous substances are the cause of many serious work-related conditions recognised as occupational diseases. They can have severe legal consequences for both employers and work-accident or disease insurance providers.

Developing and implementing prevention measures should be considered as investments contributing to the elimination of avoidable costs linked to accidents and sickness-related absences. As a result, these investments also increase productivity of staff and performance of the equipment, thus doubling the added value to the firm’s profit.

To find out more about preventing the risks from dangerous substances, visit the practical tools and guidance section on the Healthy Workplaces Campaign website. You can also keep up to date with the campaign on our social media channels – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).

[1] European Commission: Benefits of Occupational Safety and Health project – Socio-economic costs of accidents at work and work-related ill health (April-May 2011), p.48

[2] European Commission: Benefits of Occupational Safety and Health project – Socio-economic costs of accidents at work and work-related ill health (April-May 2011), p.51