Thought Leadership


Fast food, hotels, health services, theme parks and retailers: Why the low-profile safety programs?

February 10, 2010
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There are more than 2,300 worksites enrolled in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program. Only 29 are health services. Two are amusement and recreation services. Two are hotels and lodgings. Four are retailers, representing L.L. Bean and Amazon.com. One is a general merchandise store and one is a food store.

ORC Worldwide’s safety and health consultancy in Washington, D.C. is one of the largest and most reputable in the country. Of the types of services mentioned above, only Disney, Hospira, Inc., and the ServiceMaster Company are ORC members.

Where is Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Loew’s, with their warehousing hazards? Where are the thousands of hospitals and nursing homes with their fire safety, lifting, needlestick and housekeeping hazards? Where are the theme parks with their pushing the envelop thrill rides? What about fast food chains with their hot grease, cramped kitchens and high turnover? Even pizza delivery services with their scrambling drivers.

I found none as sponsors of the Auditing Roundtable in Phoenix or the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI). I checked the client lists of Behavioral Science Technology, Safety Performance Solutions, and DuPont Safety Resources; hundreds of companies are listed. DuPont lists three retailers. None of the big box chains or national fast food chains. Same goes for healthcare systems and entertainment companies.

According to the web site themeparkinsider.com, “In the United States, no official source is keeping a complete national record of theme park accidents. And in many U.S. states, including Florida, theme parks are not legally required to report accidents involving injury to anyone”

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions has an annual Safety Week and a traveling safety institute educational program. The IAAP does not make its membership list available to the public.

Same goes for the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, or IAHSS, which bills itself as “the only organization solely dedicated to professionals involved in managing and directing security and safety programs in healthcare institutions.” Its membership directory is for members only.

I checked out Home Depot’s website and found a raft of information on “Home Depot and the Environment,” but couldn’t locate any safety and health metrics or summaries or success stories.

Takes forever to load Wal-Mart’s website with all the graphics. Here’s a tip, if you want scoops on Wal-Mart corporate, google Wal-Mart corporate. Like Loew’s Wal-Mart uses sustainability far more that anything relating to workplace safety and health to build goodwill and embellish its corporate citizenship.

Wal-Mart’s web site lists all sorts of do-good activities: disaster relief, military support, “meaningful strides to zero waste,” reducing global plastic shopping bag waste, diversity, charitable giving, empowering female factory workers in Bangladesh, a program called “Acres for America,” greater affordability of healthy foods for all Americans. One sentence in the company’s sustainability annual report mentions assisting overseas suppliers improve conditions on the factory floor. I searched the Wal-Mart site for “occupational safety and health” and came up with a 2008 press release on a distribution center getting VPP recognition and the health and safety requirements (PPE, MSDSs, etc.) for company suppliers.

I’m not saying Wal-Mart has a suspect safety program. Same goes for other companies and industries mentioned here. I just don’t know. I find very little info available. If YOU know more, let me know, and I’ll share it in a future post.

It’s strange that for a service-driven economy, service companies don’t talk about safety. One of the countries main exports today are films and TV shows, yet you find very little about entertainment industry safety practices. We don’t make many things anymore, but we sure know how to package and sell (Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Loew’s, Best Buy et al). Yet I can’t recall a safety and health pro from one of these retailers presenting at a safety conference. I’m sure they have, but nowhere near in proportion to the economic influence they wield. Fast food is part and parcel of the American lifestyle, but again, I’ve heard little about their safety records or practices. Healthcare is the 8,000 pound gorilla of the economy, but while patient safety becomes a larger and larger issue, worker safety gets no press.

Strange and perhaps unsettling, occupational safety and health is not a visible nor widely discussed component of many of America’s most dynamic industries in 2010. Quite possibly these firms consider their workplace risks unique and separate from traditional manufacturing, and believe they have little to learn from construction and production safety and health programs. Perhaps, like other industries, they benchmark safety behind closed doors.

But I ask you, has safety lost its way in the 21st century economy? If you have evidence otherwise, bring it on.
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