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Times are tough — 5 reasons why you shouldn’t let up on safety during a downturn

To get great or even good safety performance results requires a commitment to resources.  Each safety-compliant worker is a company investment — time and money are poured into each employee to develop skills, a belief and the desire to approach safety as an integral part of their job.  What happens though, when the resource pipeline is empty?  What happens when orders stop coming-in and management turns to “down-sizing” to sustain profit margins or even keep the company afloat?  Corners must be cut, and for many companies that comes in the form of a bare-minimum approach.  Here’s how safety can suffer as a result of falling away from the commitment:

Overworked: Pick-up the slack and maintain the same output with less. This may require a smaller workforce to put in more hours to maintain production. More hours means workers are more apt to be fatigued or rushed. When the mind and body don’t work together, accidents happen. When production trumps safety, people get hurt.

Temporary or contractor help: A change in the business model might involve the use of temporary (temp) or contractor help to deal with a surge in work. This transient labor force is not around long enough to develop a sense of belonging, company culture, and ownership of safety. A revolving door of labor usually increases risk and the occurrence of injuries.

Lay-off cycles: When the regular workforce goes through extended layoff cycles they can return with “rusty” skills and even physically out of shape.

Getting what you pay for: A modified labor model that involves hiring less-experienced and lower cost labor creates additional risk as statistics show that more than half of all injuries occur to those that are less than one year into a new job.

Resources dry-up: Broken personal protective equipment is not replaced; the training budget is drained; time is not allowed for safety committee meetings; incentive programs are dissolved; the safety manager position is terminated. Cuts in the safety budget tell the workforce that safety no longer matters like it used to.

It’s an unrealistic expectation that safety can effectively be turned off and on or put on hold when a company struggles financially.  Great employers don’t let up on their commitment to their workers’ well-being.  This pays dividends in the long-run with sustainable and loyal employees.  It’s never good business to consider safety budgets as optional line items — cutting costs can truly put employees in harm’s way.

How do you address this issue?  Please share your thoughts by providing comments below.

In related news, How a heart to heart with your boss could save your life.

About the author: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached at dhannan@merjent.com.


  1. Safety should always be first and foremost in anything! The Oil field can be very deadly…

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