A company will kill as many as it can

Apologies for the mildly melodramatic title to this post, but having worked all over the world for almost 2 decades now, it is the only conclusion I can come to. Allow me to explain.

Death should be more expensive than prevention

Business is business. Commercial companies exist to make money. This involves looking at your income and your costs and finding ways to make the difference between the two as big as possible. In some countries death is expensive, in other countries life is cheap. Should it be any surprise that there is a direct correlation between the price of a life and industrial fatality levels? The ship yards on the Clyde in the 1950s used to budget for a fatality per £800k of contract. That was viewed as acceptable. Less was a bonus, more was a problem but, on an £8m job, if they lost 10, it was seen as OK. These days it isn’t. Kill 10 people and your company is in big trouble with the authorities. Not just that but the cost of litigation driven by the lawyers acting on behalf of the bereaved will involve eye-watering sums. So, surprise surprise, the remaining UK shipbuilders have found ways to kill far fewer people.

It may look different, but it’s the same

It’s easy to pass judgement on developing countries like Pakistan when we hear stories of 300 people killed in a factory that makes denim jeans. Sure it wouldn’t happen in the west – but it’s not so long ago that it might have. It is quite wrong to look at stories like this and pass moral judgement. The real reason why this happens in some countries and not others is down to consequences. Therefore we should not be distracted by moral arguments when trying to work out how this can get better. It will get better country by country in exactly the same way as it got better in the west, by making death expensive.

Given 2 choices, a commercial company will favour the more cost effective. When prevention becomes cheaper than compensation, this becomes the policy of choice. It really is that simple.


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