Corporate Social Responsibility

Safety and Health

Figure 2.7 Workplace Deaths by Event or Exposure, 2010

Though it seems obvious that companies should guard workers' safety and health, a lot of them simply don't. For over four decades, for example, executives at Johns Manville suppressed evidence that one of its products, asbestos, was responsible for the deadly lung disease developed by many of its workers. The company concealed chest X-rays from stricken workers, and executives decided that it was simply cheaper to pay workers' compensation claims (or let workers die) than to create a safer work environment. A New Jersey court was quite blunt in its judgment: Johns Manville, it held, had made a deliberate, cold-blooded decision to do nothing to protect at-risk workers, in blatant disregard of their rights.

About four in one hundred thousand U.S. workers die in workplace "incidents" each year. The Department of Labor categorizes deaths caused by conditions like those at Johns Manville as "exposure to harmful substances or environments". How prevalent is this condition as a cause of workplace deaths? See Figure 2.7 "Workplace Deaths by Event or Exposure, 2010", which breaks down workplace fatalities by cause. Some jobs are more dangerous than others. For a comparative overview based on workplace deaths by occupation, see Figure 2.8 "Workplace Deaths by Industry, 2010".

Figure 2.8 Workplace Deaths by Industry, 2010

For most people, fortunately, things are better than they were at Johns Manville. Procter & Gamble (P&G), for example, considers the safety and health of its employees paramount and promotes the attitude that "Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for". With nearly one hundred thousand employees worldwide, P&G uses a measure of worker safety called "total incident rate per employee," which records injuries resulting in loss of consciousness, time lost from work, medical transfer to another job, motion restriction, or medical treatment beyond first aid. The company attributes the low rate of such incidents – less than one incident per hundred employees – to a variety of programs to promote workplace safety.