Loss Control in High Technology Electronics Manufacturing: A Longitudinal Study of Occupational Safety

Article excerpt

This longitudinal twenty-year (1980-1999) study of occupational safety trends in the U.S. high technology electronics manufacturing industry revealed three key findings: 1) while the number o/workplace accidents and inspections decreased over the period, the penalties associated with violations increased; 2) the most common workplace safety citation over the period was the violation of the Hazard Communication Standard; and 3) the most frequently occurring high technology manufacturing industry accident was one in which the environmental factor and source of injury included gases, chemicals, and/or vapors which were inhaled by v one or morn employees. Managerial implications are discussed and appropriate responses to occupational safety in the high technology electronics manufacturing industry are provided.

Introduction

Te highly competitive and innovative electronics industry is now the world's largest and fastest-growing manufacturing sector [1,5,9]. It spans the production of semiconductors, computer communications equipment, disk drives, circuit boards, telecommunications equipment, and video display equipment--covering 52 SIC codes from 3570-3579 and from 3652-3695 [4,5]. The 2,500-member Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA) and the widely respected Journal of Electronics Manufacturing attest to the domestic and global importance of the $2 trillion industry [18]. The electronic manufacturing industry employed almost 1.6 million wage and salary workers in 2000 [5].

While working conditions in electronics manufacturing are relatively better than in some other manufacturing sectors, the industry appears to be drifting on its comparatively pristine laurels [5,14]. There are, however, many industry workers unwittingly exposed to hazardous materials and many workers who fabricate integrated circuits and other electronic components who inhale hazardous chemicals and vapors, but the extent and relative priority of these problems remain unclear [2,3,4]. So, although the agricultural, forestry, mining and construction industries take the lead in the incidence of occupational deaths worldwide, the toxicity of workplace safety trends in the domestic high technology electronics manufacturing industry warrants more focused managerial attention [3,9].

This unfocused managerial attention is particularly alarming in light of the increasingly substantial financial and non-financial costs of workplace safety neglect. The recent findings of the Liberty Mutual Group's Executive Survey of Workplace Safety, for example, indicate that U.S. businesses are spending $155 to $232 billion per year on workers' compensation losses, with $1 of direct costs (payments to injured employees and medical care providers) generating between $3 and $5 of indirect costs (lost productivity or overtime) [8]. In addition, managers who globally outsource high tech manufacturing jobs while ignoring workplace safety issues may face prison terms for workplace deaths [20]. Proposed legislation in England, for example, to reform involuntary manslaughter laws, introduces three new managerial criminal offences: reckless killing, which will carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; killing by gross carelessness (ten years in jail); and corporate killing (unlimited time) [20].

In addition to avoiding mounting costs, responsible workplace safety practices pay [1,6,13]. The Liberty Mutual Group's Executive Survey of Workplace Safety indicates that business leaders receive a return on investment of at least $3 for every $1 invested in workplace safety [8]. Furthermore, by realigning strategic and operational priorities to address the major sources of high tech manufacturing workplace safety violations, managers can increase their performance efficiency.

Due to the domestic and global preeminence of the high-tech electronics manufacturing industry and the staggering estimate of 8155 to S232 billion in worker compensation losses, we concentrated on this industry to improve its managerial focus and efficiency by detecting three data-based, major trends in workplace safety in the U. …