Workplace safety is an important consideration for all businesses. Although large manufacturing companies may have different health and safety concerns when compared to a smaller tech startup, every company will have issues that need to be addressed. Workplace safety is monitored by the Occupational Health and Safety Administrations (OSHA), an agency given the power to enact rules and regulations to provide safe working conditions for all employees.
During the COVID pandemic, companies may have prioritized sanitation and health-related matters, but all occupational safety standards should be maintained to protect workers from harm. Even remote employees need to be provided with the proper equipment that allows them to work safely from their home. Understanding the scope of safety measures and what is required of employers will help you manage risk and develop workplace policies to meet industry standards and individual company needs.
What is workplace safety?
Workplace safety is the term used to describe measures taken by employers to ensure protection from job-related injuries or adverse health conditions. Every profession carries its own health and safety risks. As such, each company must spend time determining the risks to employees and put into place the necessary precautions to manage these risks. Failure to follow OSHA regulations can result in increased costs related to employees' lost time at work, damage to company reputation, and litigation.
Importance of workplace safety
Employee safety should be a priority for businesses. The importance of implementing health and safety protocols goes beyond simply doing the right thing and keeping employees free from harm while they do their jobs. Employee retention, company finances, and overall productivity are also affected by the failure or lack of safety precautions in the workplace.
What is OSHA?
To help keep companies accountable, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed by Congress in 1970 with the purpose of setting and enforcing safety standards. OSHA standards require employers to provide a workplace free of known dangers, keep job sites clean and dry whenever possible, provide PPE as needed, and educate workers about potential hazards in a language they can understand. The agency also offers a wealth of information, statistics, and training resources to help companies remain compliant. Enforcement of occupational safety standards is carried out through workplace inspections and required reporting.
Common safety violations
Many of the more common health and safety violations can be mitigated through a solid risk management plan. Accidents in the workplace do happen, but with proper care, they are preventable in many cases. When drawing up your company's health and safety plan, be sure to consider these top violations noted by OSHA.
Failure to provide fall protection
Falls are one of the most common violations in the construction industry, but they can be a hazard in any employee workplace. As an employer, you can take simple steps to prevent these types of accidents. Remind employees to keep their workspace clear of anything that could cause a trip or fall. Look for wires running across the floor, boxes, or other equipment that could get in the way. Remove clutter, close doors and drawers after use and keep cords and wires tucked out of the way.
Additionally, many slips and falls happen when spills have not been properly cleaned up. Putting down a non-slip floor mat at the entry of your workplace can also help avoid puddles accumulating due to wet weather. OSHA requires fall protection to be provided at four feet of elevation in general industry workplaces and six feet at construction sites. Proper training should be provided to all employees working in elevated environments.
Lack of employee training
Employers must provide training and safety information when hazardous chemicals or other potential dangers are present in the workplace. This information must be provided in a language understandable to the employee.
Lack of eye, face, and respiratory protection
Compliance with OSHA standards is required when workers face an increased hazard due to insufficient oxygen in their work environment or hazardous vapors, dust, or smoke in the air. Injuries may also occur when workers fail to use the proper eye and face protection when working around chemical, radiological, mechanical, or environmental hazards.
Scaffolding and ladders
Following safety standards for scaffolding, particularly in the construction industry, can help to prevent an estimated 4,500 injuries per year. Ladder safety is imperative for anyone working at elevated heights. If ladders are used, they should be stable and slip-resistant. Ladder safety standards for both general industry and construction should be reviewed and adhered to in order to prevent injuries
Failure to properly operate or lockdown commercial trucks or equipment
Injuries may occur due to the improper lockdown of machines or equipment. Employers should limit authorization for use of specific equipment and construction vehicles to those who have completed proper training. Allowing for breaks throughout the day can also keep employees more focused and engaged in their work, enabling them to operate machinery more accurately, with fewer mistakes. When a machine shuts down unexpectedly due to a jam or broken part, it should be locked down or disabled until it can be serviced. OSHA's industrial trucks, machine guarding, and hazardous energy standards describe the necessary controls needed to prevent accidents.
Eight steps to improve workplace safety
Many common-sense actions will improve the safety of your workplace, prevent injury, and keep employees healthy. Here are eight steps you can take to provide a safe and healthy environment.
Conduct a safety walkthrough
A workplace inspection can reveal gaps in your current safety plan. Surveys of owners of highly-regulated restaurants revealed that forty-six percent perform monthly walkthroughs. In contrast, forty-three percent of small tech company owners reported that they never perform walkthroughs. Even a quick inspection can reveal potential dangers such as uneven flooring, machine malfunctions, or failure by employees to don protective equipment when needed.
Document safety protocols
If your company doesn't have a safety manual, now is the time to sit down and document your workplace procedures. Employees should be provided with this manual when they are hired and any updates should be distributed when approved.
Provide employee training
The policies inside the company health and safety manual should be reinforced during company training sessions. External training on first aid or other important health and safety measures can also be offered. All employees should be properly trained and certified for the job they are performing.
Post signs and safety labels
Keep up to date on which signs and safety labels are required by OSHA and other government regulatory agencies. Safety signs should be posted in a highly visible location.
The recent pandemic has increased the awareness of sanitation procedures in the workplace. A survey* conducted by Oasis, a Paychex company revealed that 68% of respondents say ensuring a safe workplace in light of the COVID 19 pandemic will become more challenging within the next 12 months. On an ongoing basis, companies should be implementing procedures with the goal of maintaining a clean, safe workplace. If you use an external cleaning service, communicate with them to ensure they are keeping to your minimum standards. According to the same survey, communicating cleanliness and safety protocols is one of the top reasons many businesses stayed open throughout the pandemic. This has allowed many businesses to continue to make an income and continue to provide service to its customers.
Focus on preventing pain
Encourage proper office ergonomics to help prevent back, shoulder, neck, wrist, and hand pain. Whether you are working in an office or at home, remind employees to pay attention to their posture and set up their work area to help ensure comfort and prevent pain or injury. Provide headsets to employees who spend a lot of time on calls to help them avoid the tendency to cradle a phone between the neck and shoulder.
Encourage employees to stay cool
Working or spending time outside in high temperatures can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not followed. During hot weather, remind employees to take steps to protect themselves from the sun. Prevent heat-related illnesses by offering sunscreen, encouraging employees to stay hydrated and wear a hat and sunglasses when possible.
Reward safe behavior
Set goals for safety behavior and offer employees rewards for achieving them. The rewards can be a monetary bonus, extra time off, or other benefit chosen by the employee. You may also want to incorporate safety into any achievements you choose to recognize in a company newsletter or internal communication.
Managing risk for health and safety issues
The stricter protocols designed to protect employees during the coronavirus pandemic should prompt employers to evaluate other potential health and safety risks to employees in the workplace. Keeping employees safe is essential to creating a healthy workplace environment that everyone will enjoy working in. If you'd like a professional risk management review or an independent opinion of your safety risks, Risk Management Services are available from Oasis to help you develop and implement the most current and effective industry procedures while adhering to OSHA standards.
* This national survey was conducted with 300 business leaders and managers from the hospitality sector who employed between 11 and 250 employees. The online interviews were conducted by Bredin, an independent market research company located in Boston, MA, from April 21 to May 16, 2021. Of the 300 survey participants, 81 percent were from Accommodation and Food Services (AFS), and 19 percent were from Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services (TA).