How to justify safety

Buyers and sellers alike need to think a little further than the price tag when it comes to justifying safety.

Take these quotes from a machinery supplier. The first, before the amputation: “Why should I make my machines fully compliant with the law and standards, when my competitors don’t?” The second, after the court case: “I now know what I should do to make my machine safe and have offered the compliant option to my customer but they don’t want to pay for it. What now?”

The catch-cry is ‘safety is non-negotiable’ but when machinery suppliers are locked in a sales war, sometimes safety is quite literally the first (but sadly, not the only) casualty. Both buyers and sellers need to consider the costs of neglecting safety, whether they are human costs, workers’ compensation costs, legal liability or even goodwill.

Immediate costs

Workers compensation might not be cheap but it is only the tip of the iceberg after a serious incident. Employers must deal with self-blame, long-term physical and emotional trauma, sick leave, excess payments, extra overtime, paperwork, investigations, staff turnover and legal costs.

A report by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) estimated that the indirect costs alone of a temporary injury that reduced the capacity of a worker in 2000-2001 were $8,060.

Legal liability

Even the most hard-nosed financial controller understands legal liability and the value of risk management. And, in the case of machine safety, the law is clear-cut.

All importers, suppliers, manufacturers and designers in all Australian states and territories are obliged to minimise risk by design, via engineered solutions, before relying on human behaviour. So are all employers.

The law makes sense because it is human to make mistakes — it is better to make machinery safe rather than relying on people to avoid hazards. Of course, it is not always possible to completely eliminate risks with good design and the law deals with this by using the well-known hierarchy of controls and guarding that are detailed in the OH&S legislation.

Non-compliance with the regulations is expensive. WorkSafe inspectors can and do shut down operations until safety is restored. When someone is injured, the legal costs, fines and lost productivity can cripple the businesses of employers, machinery suppliers, importers and designers.

Human cost

Severe injuries inflict a personal toll on workers, families and employers that is rarely reported in the media, but outlasts any business costs.

The law enforces a moral obligation to look out for the safety of others. No lawyer can defend a guilty conscience. And sadly, thousands of Australians are maimed at work each year. In April, Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities chair, John Watson, announced a national campaign to address machine safety in manufacturing.

“Unguarded machinery has the potential for causing severe injuries, including crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns or blindness,” Watson said.

“In NSW, around 1100 serious incidents occur each year as a result of inadequately guarded machinery with 46% of injuries occurring within the manufacturing industry.”


In minutes, dangerous machinery can undo reputations built over decades.

Designers and suppliers of the equipment dragged into court find it difficult to remain in the marketplace with a damaged brand name. Australian manufacturing is a tight-knit community and news soon spreads of court cases and convictions.

In turn, employers convicted of safety breaches are no longer employers of choice — a real asset in this tight labour market. A tarnished occupational health and safety record can also jeopardise contracts with customers.

On the other hand, proper guarding and safety control systems can be a decisive advantage for suppliers competing with non-compliant, low-cost imports. When safety is part of the design, it doesn’t compromise production or ease of use like guarding slapped on as an afterthought sometimes does.

It is not always easy to make the case for safety expenditure. You can rarely show it will generate extra efficiencies and in most cases, the statistical gains in lost time injuries are incremental and hard to predict. The irony is that the costs of neglecting safety are only really known once it’s too late and then they’re far too big to ignore.

Frank Schrever is the managing director of Pilz Safe Automation.

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