The Math and Art of Compliance: The Golden Rule

This article originally appeared in the NFDA's Director Magazine.

Mark Harrison is a partner at Certified Safety Training, the exclusive safety provider to the NFDA. 


The Golden Rule

How much time do we spend teaching our children The Golden Rule only to forget it ourselves? Holding ourselves accountable to treating others how we want to be treated is critical to any successful relationship. 

The hidden truth about safety is that focusing on safety is only half the battle. Building a caring culture is the other half and that starts with The Golden Rule.


The Math of Compliance

Even if you have safety signs posted, updated written safety plans, training and formaldehyde testing in place, you still probably spend more on safety than you think. 

Many funeral homes do not recognize injury costs. They see insurance fees go up every year and how quickly medical costs rise, but they do not account for injury costs and the loss of productivity. 

The National Safety Council tracks injury costs every year. The total cost of work injuries in 2018 was $170.8 billion. This figure includes wage and productivity losses of $52.4 billion, medical expenses of $35.0 billion, and administrative expenses of $57.6 billion.

The following details the "Average Total Cost per Claim by Nature of Injury" from OSHA. The extent to which the employer pays the direct costs depends on the nature of the employer's workers' compensation insurance policy. The employer always pays the indirect costs which amount to about 50% of the “Average Total Cost per Claim by Nature of Injury". Depending on a funeral home’s workers compensation plan and other insurance, these costs may be spread out over several years, but in the end, it is still employers who pay for on-the-job injuries.

Largest and Most Common OSHA Fines for Funeral Homes

  • Laceration/Puncture/Wound - $45,931
  • Poisoning - Chemical (other than metals) - $57,292
  • Puncture - $58,388
  • Sprain - $64,002
  • Carpal Tunnel - $64,953
  • Strain - $67,248
  • Respiratory Disorders (gases, fumes, chemicals, etc.) - $86,127
  • Cancer - $343,129
  • Multiple Physical Injuries - $164,096
  • Multiple Injuries Including Both Physical and Psychological - $257,623

What jumps out most (other than the costs) are how vulnerable funeral homes are to these injuries. Handling sharps, chemicals, and heavy objects are all routine activities at funeral homes.

As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that all employers are vulnerable to psychological as well and physical violations. What is clearer still, is how relevant the largest fines are related to formaldehyde alone. The actual fine for failing to monitor formaldehyde is $2,550 and the fines related to formaldehyde illness--respiratory disorders, cancer, psychological--are staggering.

Remember, these fines come before workers compensation insurance increases and productivity losses (when an employee misses work due to an injury). The hits keep coming. 

When you do the math, it is clear that having a OSHA compliance program with (I) written plans, (II) quality training, and (III) expert support, makes good business sense. 

The Art of Compliance

The best way to avoid heavy fines is to build a culture of caring that constantly reinforces how much each team member matters. This will help keep safety top of mind and limit the likelihood of a disgruntled colleague or customer.

It is imperative to meet employees where they are and to make compliance as frictionless and painless as possible. Funeral home employees are under constant physical, mental, and emotional stress. Asking them to keep in mind the most costly OSHA safety violations for funeral homes is both unreasonable and dangerous. 

Funeral home owners and directors must make safety a priority and show their colleagues that they care not about numbers but about people. Without a culture of caring, accidents happen and when accidents happen, regulators come calling.

What actually triggers an OSHA visit?

OSHA violations are often triggered in two ways: (I) OSHA is focused on an industry and visits industry locations, or (II) a disgruntled employee calls OSHA and complains about their employer. 

Either way, the threat of fines from OSHA loom over every funeral home. Understanding how to be prepared for an OSHA visit can be critical to a funeral home’s longevity. 

Most Frequent OSHA Safety Violations for Funeral Homes

  • Waste Disposal
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Exit Markers and Signage
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Quick Drench Shower and Emergency Eye Wash Station
  • Training Employees (initial training and annual renewal training)
  • Training Materials
  • Administration and Proof of Training
  • Hepatitis B Vaccinations
  • Safe Sharps
  • Meeting Electric and Building Codes

With a clear approach to safety and culture, four things are sure to happen:

  1. Occupational injuries reduce
  2. Probability fines reduce
  3. Productivity increases
  4. Retention of staff increases

Funeral homes can be dangerous places. Funeral home workers literally face hundreds of minor and major threats every day. It would be impossible for them to see them all. What is possible is to have the core training in place, to refer back to it, and to ensure that every employee feels that they are part of a caring culture. 

This starts by treating everyone--customers, colleagues, contractors--as more than a number. If you can reinforce quality caring interactions, the only number you need to focus on is zero (0)--as in zero: incidents, complaints, fines. 

Now go out and focus on The Golden Rule. 

-Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison is a partner at Certified Safety Training, the exclusive safety provider to the NFDA. Mark has extensive experience in online education and digital training and has launched successful online safety training in the funeral, veterinarian, and dental industries. Certified Safety Training is backed by Certified Safety Professionals and more than two decades of funeral home safety experience and award-winning safety programs. Mark has trained thousands of employees on how to conduct their work safely. You can contact Mark directly at (609)-375-8462 or for a free safety audit.