Zero is the only number (Editor’s Notes)

When it comes to safety, an ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure – something underscored at the Canada's Safest Employers awards
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2012

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That Ben Franklin quote was what kept running through my head at the Canada’s Safest Employers Award gala, held last month in Toronto.

The second annual event, put on by Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine — a sister publication to Canadian HR Reporter — recognized exemplary practices in health and safety. (For more information, see article 16421 or visit

It was impossible not to walk away from the event buzzing about the proactive work employers and individuals are doing to ensure the safety of workers. Everyone I talked to in its wake was fired up about health and safety, and how critical it is to ensure jobs are done in a safe manner so everyone gets to go home at the end of the day.

But it was also tough not to feel a tinge of regret, too, that not all employers take health and safety as seriously as these top organizations. A safe workplace can’t be a “nice to have” — it’s not akin to reducing average time to hire or increasing engagement scores by a couple of points. It means a lot more than a slight improvement in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) or a small savings on expenses. (Although, a safe workplace could arguably improve every one of these points. Employees want to work for employers that take safety seriously. And nothing would impact revenue more than being slapped with a stop-work order by the government in the wake of an incident.)

Four years ago, I did an interview with Steve Mahoney, then chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), about the notion of targeting zero fatalities or accidents in workplaces.

“If you say things like ‘Accidents happen and that’s just the way it is,’ what you’re really saying is that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent the incident that just occurred and it’s going to happen again,” he said. “That attitude is exactly the kind of attitude we’re working hard to change. Is zero easy? Absolutely not. But what goal do you want?”

Exactly. What number other than zero could possibly be acceptable when you’re talking about the safety of people?

There isn’t a single employer in this country that sets out with a purpose to injure workers. And yet, hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada are injured on the job every year.

In 2010, there were 249,945 time-loss injury claims approved across the country, according to the latest data available from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada. That same year, the association reported 1,014 workplace fatalities.

That’s a far cry from zero. Not every employer named one of Canada’s Safest Employers has a flawless safety record. But their reaction to an incident, the steps they take to ensure it doesn’t happen again and to truly put safety first — that’s what sets them apart.

They know when it comes to health and safety, an ounce of prevention isn’t worth a pound — it’s priceless.

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