By Jena Williams

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One man’s belief system was challenged during the building of the Interstate Highway System. He was an engineer trying to do his best work while at the same time being a good steward of taxpayer money. He received a revised order that all projects less than 95% completed needed to be revised with new safety compliant features. He thought this to be a complete waste of taxpayer money…that is until an avoidable tragedy struck close to home. Click link for more on this story “A Lesson in Safety”
by Wright Aldridge: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/memories.htm

What is your belief system when it comes to safety? When safer technologies come along, is it worth it to make the upgrade?

President Eisenhower invested in safety when he pushed the country to invest in the Interstate Highway System. Not only did it serve as a much improved method of getting from State A to State B, but according to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, “One of the primary reasons for building the Interstate System was to improve the safety of the highway users: drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.”

The Interstate System is the safest road system in the country, with a fatality rate of 0.8—compared with 1.46 for all roads in 2004.  Relative safety is measured by the “fatality rate” (fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, a measure used so data can be compared as traffic volumes change).

When the Interstate Construction Program began in 1956, the national fatality rate was 6.05.  This improvement in safety has been the result of many factors working together:  the shifting of traffic onto the safer Interstate highways and technological advances in safety, such as wider shoulders; slid-resistant pavements; better guardrail, sign, and markings; clearer sight distances; and breakaway sign posts and utility poles.  In addition, many other factors have contributed to improved safety on the Nation’s highway system, including new vehicle safety features, such as shatter proof glass, padded interiors, safety belts and air bags; programs to reduce impaired driving; and the combined, coordinated efforts of many private organizations and public agencies working together to make the Nation’s highways ever safer.

As acknowledged above, it was more than just the highway that reduced the fatality rate, it was a combination of safety improvements that we as a nation embraced and invested in. Were the lives that were saved worth it?

Each day workers file injury claims, most of which are avoidable. Often injuries are caused by lack of maintenance or making do with outdated equipment. Safer methods are out there, but each company must decide for itself if the investment worth it.

Possibly this is a discussion your company leadership should have. Is there a dollar amount under which a request for safety gear or replacement equipment should always be approved? Is there a budget put aside for safety? Have you asked your employees what would make their jobs safer? Have you considered if the investment is worth it?

I spoke with several workers last week that were injured due to lack of appropriate or regular maintenance to the yard (potholes) and equipment (wrenched back because equipment was frozen up).  These avoidable scenarios cost the companies’ money, and the workers lost wages and suffered a painful injury.

I know you have a lot to worry about in running a business. I hope you will find the time to consider safety as an investment to improve your bottom line.

More information on Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/homepage.cfm President Eisenhower undertook this amazing project after serving time in the military and getting to travel over most of America (roads in terrible shape) then seeing the Autobahn in Germany. He knew America could do better and needed to do better.

Research finds safety and operations enhance each other: http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/71/research-finds-safety-and-operations-can-enhance-each-other

Dollars and Sense, Investing in Safety: http://www.keeptruckingsafe.org/safetymaterials/908a2007.pdf

Blog on keeping workers’ comp budget healthy: http://blogs.payscale.com/compensation/2013/02/four-ergonomic-tips-to-keep-employees-and-workers-comp-budgets-healthy.html#.USZQrLiMx04.twitter

Image: President Dwight D. Eisenhower