Health and safety: a catalyst for small business growth

Oct 16, 2015

By Elizabeth Mills, President & CEO, WSPS

small businessWe'll have to wait to see which of the promises that have been bandied about during this protracted election campaign will stick. And for small business owners, who have factored heavily into election debates, which ones will bear fruit and help you grow.

Waiting for this to happen is a bit of a gamble, and, even if promises do take root, it could take a long time - possibly years - to see any benefit. However, there is a growth opportunity that is ripe for the taking - one that is completely within your control and will have an immediate impact on your business.

Business owners of all sizes are realizing that one of the simplest and most effective ways to manage risk and fuel growth is to invest in creating a healthy and safe workplace.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers with more than five workers are required to take measures to ensure a safe workplace. This includes:

  • developing and reviewing health and safety policies
  • communicating employer and employee responsibilities
  • having a health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee perform inspections and audit the health and safety program
  • identifying, controlling and informing workers of hazards
  • providing training and equipment to enable employees to work safely at all times

Creating a healthy and safe workplace is an important part of any risk management strategy. A single incident can deal a devastating blow to a small business. If it is a serious workplace injury, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) will investigate. A fire will bring the Fire Marshall to your doorstep. And if violence erupts in your workplace or a motor vehicle incident occurs, police will get involved. Worse than all of the negative attention it will bring is the weight of knowing that a preventable incident has injured or negatively impacted your colleagues, family, friends, and the community.

The Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada calculates that in 2013 the average benefit cost per lost time claim in Ontario, including administration expenses, totalled $50,224. Not included: indirect costs, such as finding and training replacement staff, unplanned overtime and extra wages, equipment damage, and possible fines and penalties. These additional losses can add up to more than four times the direct cost of the incident. Assuming an expected profit margin of 5%, the business would have to make nearly a million dollars in sales just to cover the direct cost of the injury.

This includes helping the injured get appropriate care; managing the disruption with employees and possibly customers; rescheduling work; finding and training replacement staff; unplanned overtime and extra wages; equipment damage; and MOL fines and penalties.

There are so many reasons why you don't want to let this happen to your business. But it isn't just compliance and risk management that are motivating small business owners to broaden their view of health and safety from a necessity of law to a strategic business imperative. Businesses that create a culture of health and safety have been shown to experience higher engagement levels, fewer injuries and absences, higher productivity and greater financial results, and according to McKinsey & Company, at least 50% of a business's financial success is driven by health and safety.

The 2013/2014 Staying@Work study completed by Towers Watson revealed a strong link between highly effective health strategies and human capital and financial results. Highly effective companies experienced half the rate of voluntary turnover, 1.2 fewer days of unplanned absence per employee, per year, shorter disability durations, and 2% fewer cases of short-term disability. Other studies have shown that healthy and safe businesses experience 20% more revenue per employee and 4% higher profit margin.

The majority of respondents in the study said health and productivity were strategic priorities, and they expect to increase support for these programs over the next two to three years.

Creating a health and safety program to fit your business doesn't have to be complicated. Simple steps can make a difference. Regularly conducted "quick talks" on health and safety, documenting safe operating procedures, providing checklists and material safety data sheets as topic guides all help to build safety routines into business operations. And management walkabouts, quick staff meetings, handwritten memos, notes in a log book, and staff safety champions are all viable strategies that demonstrate diligence if an inspector calls.

Over 90% of WSPS' 154,000 customers employ fewer than 20 people. And, as CEO of an organization with 250 employees, I get the realities facing smaller workplaces. Like you, our resources are lean; we're strapped for time and always looking for business approaches and strategies that will give us an edge and fuel growth. The business advantages of integrating health and safety are too numerous to ignore.

My bias is no secret. It is our mandate to help businesses understand the value of being healthier and safer. However, it wouldn't matter what business I was running. Any investment that protects employees and my business, spurs growth, and differentiates me in a crowded marketplace is sure to get my vote - especially one that is completely within my control. I don't have to wait for a political party to act on a promise or fear that when the next election happens the opportunity will be taken off the table.

Explore WSPS' Small Business Centre. You'll find a wide array of downloads, available at no charge and accessible 24/7, that can help you understand what the law requires in key areas.