Companies lose up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover as a result of poor occupational health, safety and environment (OHSE) performance, according to a leading safety academic.
"It can happen pretty darn quickly," said Professor Patrick Hudson, based at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
"If you lose 3 per cent on payroll, 3 per cent on underutilised plant and equipment, 3 per cent on lost production, and factor in 1 per cent for luck, this is how it would typically add up."
Hudson said poor safety cultures are destroying shareholder value because an extra 10 per cent is typically what shareholders might expect in profits.
There are "a lot" of companies which don't get the importance of good OHSE cultures and which fail to understand the link between safety and the bottom line, he said.
"Organisations that are not at the top of the tree as far as safety culture is concerned really don't get it, and they think a lot of what they do adds to shareholder value, when quite often they're destroying it," said Hudson.
"Most recently, BP is an example of a company which has managed to destroy massive amounts of shareholder value by failing to get safety right."
Conversely, Hudson said companies that take workplace safety seriously typically outperform other companies on the share market.
"If you look at the share price of the companies that take safety more seriously, they regularly outperform the other members of the S&P500," he said.
Quite often companies know what they're supposed to do when it comes to OHSE but are "not actually doing it" and Hudson said this was a "major factor in causing accidents".
Many major accident reviews find out that more pressing tasks sometimes supersede a thorough approach to safety, and while these tasks can often be justified on financial grounds, he said this was a short-sighted approach.
As such, Hudson advised OHS professionals to seek a strong understanding of the level of financial exposure their company might face as a result of poor safety practices and cultures.
"This can be a good way to get the people like the CFO on your side," he said.
"If the CFO sees safety as an investment rather than a cost, then the CEO will also listen to the CFO. So you can get the CFO on your side by discovering what poor safety might be costing you, and it's almost inevitably much more than people think," said Hudson.