Measuring the value of safety

October 1, 2004 By    

In the movie Caddy Shack, greens keeper Karl entertains the young caddies with his story of getting “stiffed” after carrying a loop for the Dalai Lama.

  Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

“I said ‘Hey, Dalai — Mr. Lama, how about a little something for the effort?” He replied “There will be no money, but when you die you will achieve total consciousness.” Karl smugly concludes by observing, “So I’ve got that going for me.”

How do you measure the value of an intangible concept such as investing in safety? I’m talking about committing funds to audit procedures, review written material sent to customers and training that takes the safety message from your employees hearts to their heads.

You can’t eat it, spend it or sell it for value. You can’t use it to meet payroll, pay for the rising cost of product or reinvest it in equipment. At face value, it is a lot like being blessed by the Dalai Lama.

We rarely appreciate intangible assets such as our personal health. When we add up the thousands of dollars spent on health and life insurance it feels like we are throwing money away. When we are healthy and do not use the coverage it is an easy assumption to conclude that we have wasted our money.

But if you have ever known a family dealing with the costs of cancer treatment, long-term care or a permanent disability, it’s hard to deny the security and comfort those payments make. A widow with three young kids appreciates any death benefit insurance, even though it may not be enough. These folks are thankful and appreciative of the investment.

When it comes to business insurance, you really can’t feel the pain unless you have experienced a large liability claim, a serious employee workers compensation claim and/or the resulting premium increases and cancellation of insurance coverage.

Stories of others’ experiences never seem real enough to motivate steps to prevent that kind of pain. The fact that you can control your own financial environment by investing in safety somehow makes the process more irritating.

Do not let this feeling cloud your judgment.

By eating correctly, exercising and listening to the needs of our bodies, we can improve our long-term health. The benefits include long-term employment, family experiences, friendships and enjoyment of a high quality of life.

My wife recently decided to lose some weight and get in shape. I winced when I learned that she hired a trainer at the local health club. My first thoughts were to say, “Ride your bike, take a walk and eat less.” My second thought was “Ignorance, bite thy tongue.”

To make a long story shot, she lost over 20 pounds, got in great shape and improved her life expectancy to the point where she will certainly outlive Willard Scott. She invested in her health. Without that investment and determination the bike likely would have spent more time in the garage, her walking shoes would be unused and the siren of those sweet treats and fried wonders would have prevailed. The reason our best intentions often fail is because we fail to bring commitment and determination to the process.

Investing in safety can mean the difference between a profit and a significant loss. We just don’t realize how deep the down side is. When you visualize the pain, you can not only justify – but also embrace – the cost with a sense of purpose and prosperity.

In your business, millions of dollars are at stake. For a small fraction of that devastating cost you can insulate your business by investing in safety.

Profits kept are how you keep score.

Johnston ( is President of Jay Johnston & Associates, Inc., an independent management firm specializing in insurance consulting, premium negotiation, behavior motivation and high impact safety presentations. He is also the editor of The Safety Leader newsletter, a forum for leadership development for the propane industry and can be reached at 888-725-2705 or

Copyright 2004 Jay Johnston & Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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