Safety Before Wellness: A Prerequisite to Health
Corporate wellness is a principle in need of a place. That is to say, the idea of a healthy workforce does not square with the reality of a dangerous workplace.
The ideal workforce, healthy in mind and productive in body, high in morale and strong in morality, would never sacrifice its ideals to conditions that threaten the lives and livelihoods of its members.
And yet every seven seconds a worker suffers an injury on the job. The seconds turn into hours, the hours into days, the days into weeks; while the injuries go from 510 per hour to 12,600 per day to 88,500 per month to 4,600,000 per year.
As this chart from the National Safety Council illustrates, the injuries include cuts and lacerations, sprains and strains, and soreness or pain. The injuries are more than an inconvenience to workers or a small setback for employers.
The injuries extend to the economy as a whole, because what begins with one worker consumes all workers, resulting in delays, disruptions, and losses both measurable and immeasurable.
The losses may be recoverable in terms of revenues, but they are irreversible in terms of consumer confidence. The latter is a barometer of acompany’s influence among consumers, the very people whose trust is hard to earn and easy to squander.
By this standard, a company with a real or perceived reputation for jeopardizing the health and safety of workers is a company with little or no future. Exceptions exist—and outliers endure—but the rule predominates.
The rule being: When consumers hold a company liable, when their verdict is silent but visible, when they vanish from the aisles of a company they distrust, when they hold court by inviting other companies to court them, when they enforce this rule—a ruling with no court of appeal—they relegate a company to the remainder bin; to be pulped, shredded, or demolished.
So, before a company supports a wellness program, before it advertises its commitment to mental or physical health, before it hires a speaker to preach the virtues of living well, before a company does any of these things, it must examine its own health.
The examination must be total, itemizing sources of potential or probable danger.
The examination must highlight those things that may be injurious to workers or anyone else who enters a place of business, because just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, failure to act neither absolves nor acquits a business from prosecution.
The examination must include everything from floors too perilous to cross to stairs too precarious to climb—as well as insulation that leaks, leaks that worsen into mold, and mold that darkens into spores too toxic for workers to breathe.
According to Howard P. Lesnik, an injury law expert and member of the New Jersey Association of Justice, an examination of this kind is critical.
If anything, and here I speak for myself, willful negligence is morally reprehensible. It is wrong because it represents a decision not to act and a choice not to do; the worst choice possible, since it will take legal action for a business to act, despite whatever happens between the time a person is hurt and a plaintiff receives damages for his injuries.
In the interim, a company may lose its best workers to injuries. That injuries are also injurious to a company’s bottom line, that sick days sicken a company’s ability to operate, that a company’s operations slacken as morale declines and conditions deteriorate—these things make corporate health impractical and corporate wellness impossible.
These things are incompatible with a policy that is neither legally sound nor morally defensible.
These things cannot work—they will never work—under a system that is just and a judicial system that is right. Because justice is not blind to the injustices of neglect, malice, or distress. Because justice is what workers seek and their advocates demand.
But for these things, companies would have no reason to safeguard their workers and guard against workplace injuries. But for repeating these things, companies might not understand the connection between the urgency of this issue and the chaos of a hospital emergency room. But for reminding companies of the irresponsibilities, injuries would rise and triage would be the only medical treatment workers would receive.
Corporate wellness, then, starts with corporate safety.
To start, a team of experts should inspect a building. Whether the team consists of lawyers and building inspectors, or features professionals of every party and of almost every point of view, is less important than what the team says.
The team must have the independence to do its job, and the freedom to report its findings, regardless of the outcome. The team must be as open in its reportage as it is open-minded in its approach toward gathering information. The team must do these things, not because they are helpful, but because they are indispensable to delivering a final report that compels a company to act.
In the end, either a building is safe for workers to use and the public to access, or it is too hazardous to enter without suffering serious or permanent injury.
Either accidents are unlikely, thanks to oversight and due diligence, or injuries are inevitable without protective gear and safety equipment.
Either a company will equip itself to fix these problems, thereby honoring its commitment to health and wellness, or the problems will become insoluble and the business insolvent.
Health must be a necessity, so wellness can be a priority.
Together, the two are a foundation for success and longevity. The two are what companies need and workers want, so safety may flourish, society may be good, and greatness may be an attainable good.
The two constitute a path toward wellness—a path toward the best we can do for the greatest number of people.