When thinking about safety practices for your firm there are two major items to consider. Morally, you don't want any of your employees to get injured or killed. Financially, even minor injuries can add up to major costs. If an employee gets killed or an accident leaves him or her with a debilitating injury, or if your company shows a pattern of accidents, the results can have a serious impact on the long-term stability of your company. Some businesses shy away from hiring companies who have a history of serious accidents. Some general contractors now require an analysis of OSHA Recordkeeping forms for a company before they will even allow bids for a project. Some contractors won't sign contracts with companies that have had fatalities in the past few years. Additionally, a history of injuries or fatalities can make insurance difficult or impossible to obtain. Excess surplus insurance can cost much more than normal rates.

The base rate you pay for Workers' Compensation insurance is not affected by your company's history of injuries. However, there is a multiplier against the base rate called the Experience Modification Rate (EMR) that can affect it. This rate is based on your history of injuries and illnesses filed with your carrier in the previous three years. This rate can be an indicator of how your company rates against others in your industry or against your carrier's clients. If your company's EMR is above 1.0 you certainly need to be concerned; strive for a range of .67 to .70. Start-up companies usually have an EMR of 1.0 and pay the base rate for workers' comp insurance. However, if your company develops a history, adjustments affect that rate, and if your history has shown accidents and injuries above your carrier's acceptable rate, your EMR will increase.

All claims are assigned a cost factor that is generally a minimum amount-in many cases, $5,000. This cost factor applies to any injury, even a $365 smashed finger. Carriers of workers' comp insurance are generally more concerned about a few small claims at, say, a $35,000 total figure than they are with one large claim of $35,000 because the small claims show a pattern of accidents.

Data that can help surveying firms determine how they compare to other firms can be found in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) summaries. [1] The tables are broken down into job descriptions. For years, the United States used the Standard Industrial Classified System (SIC) for this breakdown. As part of the conversion to a more uniform standard throughout North America, and as a result of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which allowed for comparisons between the countries, the tables have been converted to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The SIC code for Surveying Services is 8713, and the NAICS code for Surveying and Mapping Services (excluding geophysical) is 541370. [2]

The latest figures from 2003 (and some from 2002) show that in 2003, the NAICS general code 541 includes 6,638,700 employed people and 79,300 total recordable injuries and illnesses. Of those cases, 22,900 involved days away from work and 13,100 involved job transfers or other restrictions. The number of injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers putting in 2,000 hours per calendar year for code 541 is 1.2. NAICS code 54137 shows an employment number of 58,300 and a total recordable case incident rate of 2.7. Cases with days away from work for surveyors were 0.8 and cases with job transfers or restrictions were 0.3.

To gauge your company's operating rate of safety, calculate your rates for the year and compare them to the averages. Click to www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/RKforms.html. Select "Open Forms Package for CY2004 and beyond - PDF." Page 5 provides an explanation and worksheet on how to figure incidence rates. You will need the total number of hours worked in the year by all employees, the total number of OSHA Recordable injuries and illnesses [3], the total number of days away from work, and the total number of job restrictions and transfers. After you calculate your company's rates you can compare them to previous years listed on the BLS website at www.bls.gov/iif/oshsum.htm.

Once you find out how your company compares to others in the same field, you can use the data as a benchmark to begin or tweak your safety efforts. If your figures are on the lower end, you are either doing something right or you have been really lucky. If you are on the upper end, you have some problems that must be addressed. Comparing all of these figures won't really do any good if you don't take action to improve your record. Even those companies with almost no injuries or illnesses can improve to no injuries or illnesses. If you have followed my other articles over the past several years (available in the POB Archives at www.pobonline.com), you know many of the important safety items for surveyors. Roadway safety, Personal Protective Equipment, hazard communications, confined spaces and excavation safety are just some of the important areas you should cover in your company's safety efforts.

Use these BLS figures to find out where your company stands. Don't wait for OSHA to drop by or for a serious accident to occur. The company you save may feed your family and the life you save may be your own.