The US Department of Labor regulates worker rights and protections through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA standards are high, and their enforcement is strict, particularly when it comes to an employer’s responsibilities in maintaining workplace safety. Having a guide to employee safety on hand is helpful if you wish to understand exactly what you need to do to improve health and safety in your organization.
Workplace injury and illness statistics are frightening. Every year, approximately two million people around the world lose their lives from work-related injuries or diseases. About 270 million accidents occur that result in a workplace injury, either light or severe, and work-related illnesses are becoming more and more prevalent as well.
These numbers are a clear indicator that much has to be done to improve worker safety. Every organization needs to have a risk management strategy that includes an all-encompassing safety and health plan. Employers are tasked with identifying risks, assessing them, and mitigating them as much as possible.
In our complete guide to employee safety, we are going to address everything you need to know to promote a safety culture and introduce the right safe work practices to your business. We will talk about occupational health and risk management. We’ll talk about how employee safety connects to it, along with what type of injury or illness risks you can expect and what you should do to improve workplace safety in your organization to achieve a safe work environment.
Employee Safety and Risk Management
Overall, risk management is a process of recognizing, analyzing, and minimizing risks that threaten the operations and profitability of your company. These risks are various: from legal liability to financial troubles to management mistakes to natural disasters to loss of data and more. If something poses a danger to your earnings and your organization as a whole, it has to be labeled as a risk.
Employee safety is a crucial part of risk management. Without an established culture of safety and health in an organization, business cannot thrive. It certainly cannot pass OSHA regulations, which leads to legal issues.
Here are the top reasons why employee safety is important in risk management:
- Increased Employee Loyalty
Employee loyalty is directly proportional to employee satisfaction. The happier your employees are with their jobs, the more loyal they will be. They won’t be as likely to leave your company or even search for other jobs. In fact, they will probably want to remain with your organization as long as possible.
One of the ways you can improve employee satisfaction is to develop a safe and healthy workplace environment. No worker wants to fear for their life or health while completing work assignments. Unsafe practices that lead to injuries, illnesses, or fatalities and aren’t addressed immediately will cause employees to seek another position elsewhere. Invest in a robust safety program to increase employee loyalty.
- Reduced Financial Losses
OSHA’s safety standards are not optional. Each employer must comply with their set of health and safety guidelines; otherwise, they risk legal problems. If it gets to court, the employer could lose a lot of money in punitive fees.
It isn’t only OSHA’s inspections that could cause these types of issues. If a job hazard hasn’t been dealt with, or if it caused an injury, employees would be within their rights to sue the organization for not paying attention to workplace safety and health. The same is true if an employee develops a work-related illness.
The process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks is not only time-consuming but also expensive. Making sure that your company is compliant with OSHA’s rules and regulations will make a dent in your budget. However, it will be completely worth it to avoid lawsuits and large monetary fines in the future.
As a bonus, the healthier your employees are, the lower their health insurance premiums will be.
- Higher Productivity
Safe workplaces lend themselves to high productivity rates. Employees who don’t suffer from any medical conditions have more energy to work. When workers know that all workplace hazards have been taken care of, they don’t have to worry about their safety. Finally, workers who take regular breaks to rest, hydrate, eat, and stretch their limbs are more eager to give it their all at work than those who don’t have the same luxuries.
Another important factor here is that a workplace accident may lead to work disruption. If a machine malfunctions, or if someone gets hurt, production will have to halt for a while, perhaps even for several days before everything starts running again. That is idle time that not many companies can afford. Make sure to continually improve your safety policies to encourage a high level of productivity.
- Better Reputation
Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. If a company’s safety and health program isn’t up to par – especially if it causes a few injuries – it’s only a matter of time before the word spreads. The business’ reputation will quickly take a hit, and it will be difficult to recover.
A signed and sealed bad reputation is particularly possible in this day and age of online reviews. It is enough for one employee to leave a bad review of an organization on a relevant site for others looking for a job there to reconsider. The company will get fewer job applications, and perhaps their existing employees will want to leave, not to mention what could happen if their clients find out.
Safe and healthy employees will be more than happy to put in a good word for your business both online and off.
To successfully pinpoint, assess, and mitigate workplace risks, you first need to know what they are. Occupational risks are categorized into six different groups:
- Chemical hazards – any type of toxic or harmful (i. e. corrosive) chemical
- Biological hazards – microorganisms that cause infections such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, also toxic molds, plants, etc.
- Safety hazards – risks of falling, tripping, slipping, getting crushed, machinery that moves or isn’t guarded, electric hazards, tight spaces, etc.
- Physical hazards – radiation sources, steady vibrations, loud noise, continual high heat, etc.
- Ergonomic hazards – sitting for prolonged periods of time, awkward postures, bending, heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, repetitive movements, etc.
- Psychosocial hazards – workplace violence, harassment or bullying, unbalanced work/family time, too many work hours in a week, etc.
Most likely, your organization won’t contain all of these hazards. It depends on what your industry is – office workers are plagued by ergonomic hazards, while healthcare and laboratory workers are exposed to biological hazards the most. The employer’s task would be to prioritize these risks for their business and find ways to eliminate or reduce them.
During this process, make sure not to leave out the psychosocial hazards. While they are not a direct threat to an employee’s physical health, they are a big factor in their mental health. A worker who is too stressed, anxious, depressed, or similar cannot operate anywhere near at the level of a mentally healthy person.
How to Improve Employee Safety
Now that we’ve detailed the importance of employee safety in risk management, along with what type of risks you should look out for, we can move on to specific safety tips and measures. Implementing these, along with proper use of safety equipment, will go a long way in successfully reducing safety issues.
Health and Safety Plan
A health and safety policy is not effective without a clear plan of your risk priorities and how you plan to control hazards. Since most safety responsibilities fall on the employer, it is your duty to come up with a health and safety plan that will work both for you and your employees.
Limit risk exposure where you can, provide first-aid kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), label unsafe environments, perform regular machine maintenance and inspections to ensure everything is in top working order.
Distribute your plan, and especially the guidelines and policies that arise from it, to everyone working in your organization. Each employee should be informed of the risks on the job and what the best course of action to prevent them is.
Health and Safety Training
Aside from keeping everyone up to date with your guidelines, you should also organize regular health and safety training. All employers have an obligation to provide safety training to their workers, in language that the workers can understand. The first step in managing safety is learning about the job hazards and their mitigation.
Another important type of training is emergency drills. Employees should be trained in what to do in case there’s a fire, a natural disaster, or a similar crisis. If your area is prone to earthquakes, conduct regular earthquake drills. Fire exits should be clearly labeled, and your office or production buildings should be fully equipped with fire extinguishers and other emergency tools.
In these times wrought by a global pandemic, it is a good idea to consider reducing the risk of viral infections as well. If your employees are feeling sick, they should not feel compelled to come into work. Sick leave should be provided so that ill workers don’t have to work and healthy ones won’t get infected.
So far, we’ve only mentioned how the employer is responsible for the health and safety of their organization. While that is true, the workers themselves also have a significant role to play. Their job is to monitor their individual work spaces for any signs of new risks or old risks that have resurfaced. If they spot a hazard, their duty is to report it so that it can be taken care of as quickly as possible.
To foster an environment where employees feel encouraged to do this, you first need to establish open and honest communication. Employee relations are incredibly important for a thriving business, and there are a few ways you can improve them.
- Managing conflict – In any setting, it is natural for conflict to happen. However, when it occurs in a professional environment, there is no room for tension, raised voices, or any type of harassment. Conflict should be resolved in a respectful manner, no matter who the two parties are – employee and employee or employee and manager.
If someone needs to be reprimanded, make sure you have all the facts before you act. Don’t jump to conclusions – listen to both sides of the story and look for any evidence supporting either. Conflict management training in the company could also be an option from time to time.
- Team building – How well do your employees know each other? A great way to boost morale, improve interpersonal connections, and create an opportunity for your team to learn more about each other is team building.
Team building events and exercises are usually organized outside the office, where the employees can see each other in a completely new light. Consider team lunches, hiking excursions, paint classes, even SPA days. Allow your employees to relax, have some fun, and mingle!
- Appreciating employees – Phrases like ‘good job,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘you did well today,’ should be commonplace in your company. Even if you can’t hand out bonuses left and right, you can commend your workers on a job well done and let them know that you appreciate their contribution. This will make your workers feel valued and like they are an asset to your company, rather than just another cog in the wheel.
- Offering career development opportunities – To inspire employees to do their best, you need to give them a goal to work towards. A higher salary and a better position contribute to an employee’s sense of achievement. Everyone likes to feel successful. Provide good opportunities for career development in your departments, and your workers will strive to do better and advance in their careers.
To keep your occupational safety measure at a high level, every employee needs to participate. Implementing punishments and reprimands for those who don’t comply with the safety rules is a common way to enforce your safety policies. However, you should also consider positive reinforcements – giving out small bonuses and rewards to those who follow all the protective measures.
If a worker regularly wears their personal protective equipment and encourages others to do the same, why not treat them to a free lunch? If another employee reports a hazard that could potentially cause a lot of harm and damage, maybe they can get a gift card of some kind? These rewards don’t have to be anything big or too expensive. But your employees will be glad to receive these small tokens of appreciation.
Positive reinforcements will lead to an environment of positivity and camaraderie, as opposed to fear and distrust that comes from harsh disciplinary actions. You want to boost morale and for your workers to think of your organization as a cool place to work, not to want to get away from it as fast as possible.
Lastly, seek the opinion of your employees on business matters, especially if they directly relate to them. Oftentimes business owners are too proud to consult with their employees, but they can actually offer valuable insight. Ask the workers about their managers and supervisors. Are they doing a good job? Are they happy with their superiors?
This line of inquiry will help you get a full picture of your organization. It could uncover some weaknesses you should work on, but it will only help your business evolve into something better. After all, it is not only lower-ranking employees that have to meet certain standards; executives need to be held to the same or even higher standards, as well.
Getting fresh input from people of different qualifications and skill sets than your own might lead to a problem solution. Additionally, your employees will once again feel like they are an important part of the company.
Strengthen the Bonds
The core of this article – as well as the core of employee safety and relations – are strong bonds between every employee at your company. For a business to maintain a safe environment and run without a hitch, everyone employed needs to work together towards a common goal. That goal is usually to satisfy your clients or customers. No matter what type of departments there are, each one should be contributing to this goal.
Risk management cannot function without employee health and safety. To spare yourself the financial losses, deteriorating reputation, loss of employees, and legal issues, you must invest time and money into building a solid health and safety system. This system will be as effective as you and your employees make it to be.
The cornerstone of employee safety and good business practice in general is good communication. Find ways to encourage constructive conflict resolution and a bright workplace where your employees can make the most out of their skills. Consider positive motivations, such as verbal praise and small rewards and bonuses for those who are truly doing their best. Make your workers feel valued and appreciated, and they will invest as much of themselves as possible to see your organization flourish.
After reading through this extensive guide on employee safety, you might have some questions on how to implement your own safety program. Feel free to reach out to us at SAFE for additional information. Our company specializes in safety training and education that will lead your business into a whole new health and safety era! Please contact us at [email protected] or call us at 775-843-8318.