Besides the pain that on-the-job injuries cause workers each year, they also carry a steep financial toll for plastics companies - the equivalent of $3,200 in extra costs annually for every worker because of direct expenses such as medical bills and less-obvious things like lost production.
That figure comes from Michael Crickenberger, vice president for DuPont Safety Resources, the Wilmington, Del., company's worldwide safety consulting business.
He said the figure is based on a conservative estimate of $20,000 in direct costs like medical bills and workers comp for each injury that results in lost workdays. His estimate spreads that cost to all workers, and then factors in what he said is a conservative estimate for indirect costs, such as lost production and hiring replacements.
``If you convert that into the number of parts you have to make to cover those costs, it's huge,'' Crickenberger said.
Crickenberger, a 25-year DuPont veteran who has held executive positions with the company's nylon resin and automotive businesses, spoke Sept. 17 at Plastics Encounter in Indianapolis. The forum was sponsored by Plastics News.
Crickenberger said the debate within industry about safety reminds him of debates about quality and zero defects that went on in the automotive industry 20 years ago.
``You heard people say, `Well, you can't make a car with zero defects. Quality costs money,' '' he said.
But now industry embraces quality initiatives because they make economic sense, he said.
``Safety is the same thing,'' he said.
Improvements in safety also return improvements in morale, he said.
DuPont has numbers to back up its claim that it is possible to drive injury rates much lower: The company has an injury and illness rate about one-eighth that of the chemical industry average.
The company has just 0.24 cases of workers losing days on the job from injuries and illnesses per 100 workers, compared with 1.9 for the chemical industry, Crickenberger said.
Plastics processing, by comparison, has a lost-workday injury and illness case rate of 5.4 per 100 workers. Manufacturing as a whole has a case rate of 4.5 per 100.
To drive injury rates lower, companies need a commitment from top management to focus on safety, and the culture of the company needs to be that employees ``look out for each other and really care for each other,'' he said. DuPont ties bonuses of many employees, including top executives, to safety, he said.
He said pushing safety helps, rather than hurts, profit.
``Driving this will get you as much business result as driving lean or driving quality,'' he said. ``We find that our safest facilities are our most productive.''
Ron Hayes, who runs the Fight Project, a nonprofit organization in Fairhope, Ala., that works with families after workplace accidents, said society is too accepting of on-the-job injuries. Hayes, who also spoke at the conference, referenced the national injury and illness rate of 2.8 lost-workday cases per 100 workers.
In his deep, Southern drawl, he wondered out loud who ``the idiot'' was who came up with the idea that the 2.8 rate is OK. ``These numbers send a horrible message to employees that they are just a number and you don't care.''
Hayes' 19-year-old son Patrick was killed in a grain silo cave-in in 1993. Hayes and his wife, Dot, launched the Fight Project, which stands for Families in Grief Hold Together.
Hayes' efforts to expose an ineffective safety program at his son's company and spotlight poor government response generated many results. He gained coverage in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and other papers, garnered a public apology from senior government officials, earned numerous honors, and prompted procedural changes at the Occupational Health & Safety Administration. He since has become an adviser to some congressional leaders and OSHA, even while running the Fight Project's Web site at www.oshawatchdog.org.
Hayes, whose group accepts no financial contributions. travels around the country giving certified safety courses for free. He suggests that companies can take inexpensive steps that will boost safety.
One firm he worked with put up a bulletin board near the time clock, where employees post pictures of loved ones. The company feels it has helped reduce injuries, he said.
But overall, he said, companies and government agencies need to do more to combat injuries and deal with their aftermath.
``When Pat was killed, my wife and my family were thrown into this black hole,'' said Hayes, who now offers a network of free, informal grief counseling to any family in need. ``No one could tell us anything. The police department was horrible to us. The coroner's office was horrible. OSHA was even worse. The company was horrible. No one helped us. Period.''