Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Make safety first on your topic list

January 29, 2019

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Any corporation has social impacts and one of them is safety. There are workplace injuries and deaths, but also the safety of a greater community and environment. (Credit: Pixabay user skeeze)

All business reporters learn to follow corporate financials and stock performance. But all that is just money, not the boundaries of a company’s interaction with its employees and the world.

Any corporation has social impacts and one of them is safety. There are workplace injuries and deaths, but also the safety of a greater community and environment. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was judged to have been the cause of 16 wildfires in California in 2017 and currently is suspected as the cause of the notorious Camp Fire, which at the time of this writing has a death toll of 88 and nearly 50 still missing.

The cause of the Lion Air crash in late October is still unknown, but might have something to do with, ironically, a new safety feature Boeing had added to its 737 MAX 8 model. Or possibly a manufacturing production backlog over the summer.

There are three broad areas of safety that business journalists might examine as part of their regular coverage of industries of companies.

Personnel safety

Safety of employees is an active issue more commonly than might seem obvious. There were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one important sources of information. That was a 7 percent increase of 2015 and the third consecutive jump. But you have to consider statistics in context. Was that a matter of poorer workplace practices or the growth of the nation’s workforce coming out of the Great Recession?

BLS has regular information on injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has inspection data on specific illnesses and injuries, chemical exposure, inspection information, penalties, and more.

Product safety

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has information on product recalls, lawsuits, and penalties. There are also injury statistics by product category.

The federal government also collects more general product safety information that can come from multiple sources and includes data on vehicles and household, outdoor, sports, recreational, and child-related products. The complexity owes to the federal regulatory landscape.

Environmental and societal safety

The Centers for Disease Control have data on environmental public health. There is also the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which focuses on offshore resources.

Other resources on safety

The array of federal and state regulatory structures means reporters should plan to search around to see if there are specialized agencies that cover a particular topic. The mining industry, for example, comes under the Mining Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA.

Don’t forget state regulators in research. California officials followed PG&E’s impact and judged its potential responsibility because utilities are regulated on the state level.

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