Don’t Discount the Negative PR from Safety Incidents

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When trying to convince senior management to invest in safety, many safety professionals point to the various costs of workplace injuries, such as lost work days, workers’ comp costs, etc. But safety incidents have another cost that could help you make this argument—the cost of negative publicity associated with a serious safety incident.

Although calculating exactly how much negative PR can cost your company may be difficult to do, the thought of being portrayed as a callous company that doesn’t care about its workers’ safety can have a bigger impact on executives than raw numbers.

How bad can negative press be?

Look at what recently happened to two small companies in Seattle.  The front page of the Seattle Times on Feb. 14, 2013 had a story on workers who claim they were exposed to excessive levels of lead at Wade’s indoor gun range.

Lead vapors and dust are released when bullets are fired; bullets can also shatter on impact.

Forty-seven construction and gun-range workers tested had elevated blood-lead levels, and 24 showed symptoms possibly resulting from lead exposure, sparking multiple government investigations and a lawsuit.

For example, one worker said he developed tremors in addition to the headaches, stomachaches, lost appetite, fatigue and irritability that another worker also experienced—symptoms that are consistent with lead exposure.

Three children and two women in workers’ households also tested positive for excess lead, suspected to have been brought home on workers’ clothes, boots and tools. (Oil field workers can also bring lead home with them, endangering their families.)

The workers claim that they worked without PPE or instructions on how to protect themselves from toxic lead dust. And there was no decontamination area.

A state occupational health monitor called the situation “significant, even historical.”

Both the gun range and S.D. Deacon, the construction company hired to do  remodeling work at the range, claim they had safety protocols in place but “things could have been done better.”

If you don’t think this high profile article will impact the companies involved, here’s just one of the many online comments to this story: “Wade’s is a horrible establishment and I don’t see why anyone would want to do business with a horrible company.”