For years, government agencies and safety advocates have touted strict regulations as the best way to promote workplace safety and guard against work accidents. Some employers, however, have balked at the intrusion, arguing that the high cost of compliance is inefficient and damaging to their bottom lines.
A new study by a scholar at the Harvard Business School aims to put this dispute to rest. It found that the threat of a random safety-compliance inspection can actually make a workplace safer without creating huge costs.
The study looked at workplaces that had been inspected between 1996 and 2006, and then compared them with similar workplaces that had not undergone such an inspection. It found that workplaces that were subjected to random safety inspections experienced a 9 percent decline in workplace injuries in the four years after the inspection. In addition, the total cost of workplace injuries (workers' compensation payments, lost productivity, etc.) fell by 26 percent during the same time period.
In the short term, though, an inspection may lead to an uptick in injury rates - at least on paper. This is because inspections force wayward employers into compliance. For example, if OHSA found an employer was not keeping adequate records, the employer may be forced to update its records with previously unreported injuries.
Workplace safety is never something that should be taken lightly. In a perfect world, all employers would voluntarily adhere to government safety regulations. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. The added burden of a random inspection is a small price to pay to obtain such a marked increase in safety.
Source: Science Now, "It's Official: Random Inspections Improve Workplace Safety," Elizabeth Norton, May 17, 2012.