How could anyone argue against improving safety? Well, few participants at a two-day seminar, ANSI/PMMI 155.1 Increase profits through safety, tried to discourage safety improvements. But some experts in product liability-including attorneys and insurance underwriters-explained that the decision is not clear-cut.
Legal liability, costs of adding what could be unneeded components and the effect on existing customers and machines were some of the reasons cited for more carefully considering a decision to devote resources to improving safety on equipment. More than once, speakers indicated the seminar was planned to keep individual companies out of the "hot seat" as a defendant in safety litigation. The seminar was sponsored by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (Arlington, VA).
However, having identified potential consequences, most participants agreed that safety improvements to packaging machinery can produce added profits. That was reinforced by John Hunt, head of 3M Co.'s Packaging Resource Center, who focused his remarks on the impending ergonomic standards from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration. Hunt identified a variety of packaging functions that often have ergonomic problems, but he admitted that justifying added costs for safety can be difficult.
"Unfortunately, the benefits of adding safety are 'soft' benefits," he said, noting morale improvement, reducing injuries and health costs, and providing opportunities for more workers. Most often, he said, management asks: "Show me the money!" And Hunt did by identifying a laundry list of indirect costs that relate to health care, litigation, claims processing, management and supervisory time, plus absenteeism, loss of experienced employees, reduced quality products caused by difficult tasks and sometimes overtime pay to make up for lost production. All of these factors can be measured, Hunt said.
Hunt displayed a chart of the cost considerations for certain types of job-related injuries. In it, OSHA measures direct and indirect costs, and adds the additional company sales that are needed to cover the costs of an injury. He offered an example of a 3M package change driven by improving ergonomics. The company switched a liquid product from heavy cans to flexible pouches that were easier to handle.
He finished by telling the machine builders, "You need to focus more on ergonomics as a selling feature of your equipment. You need to sell safety, so that I can sell it to management within my company."