A Primer on Safety in the Workplace
Thousands of workers die each year and many more suffer injuries or illnesses because of conditions at work. Workplace injuries have a major financial impact as well — recent estimates place the business costs associated with occupational injuries in the U.S. at close to $170 billion.
As an employer you have a moral — and legal — obligation to protect your workers on the job. But oftentimes, businesses realize too late that prevention is the best solution. By becoming proactive, rather than reactive, with workplace safety you can prevent injuries from happening and avoid costly fines. Here’s a primer on what you should know about safety and health in the workplace.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration — OSHA— is a federal regulatory agency that provides companies with guidelines and laws to ensure they do their due diligence to protect workers. These rules, based upon years of data collection, knowledge, and testing, have been proven successful at preventing worker injuries and illnesses. For example, worker deaths in the U.S. are down from an average of about 38 worker deaths per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012. Worker injuries and illnesses are also down — from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.4 per 100 in 2011.1
OSHA inspects workplaces for many reasons. If an employer has had a multitude of work-related injuries, OSHA may stop by to see why these incidents are occurring. If, during an inspection, OSHA finds you have not done your due diligence in putting sound safety practices in place, training your workers in these practices, and ensuring that workers follow the rules, you could be hit with an enforcement fine.
Assess, Plan, Act, and Verify
The key to a safety and health plan’s success is to view it as a part of your business operations and to see it reflected in day-to-day operations. If you are ready to make a commitment to safety, follow this four-step cycle to identify and address potential hazards in your workplace.
Assess – Begin by assessing your workplace and operations. There are several ways this can be done:
- Ask your employees. They have to work in those conditions every day and know what the potential hazards are. They may even have ideas for eliminating or fixing problems. Observe them working — are they cutting steps to make the task easier for them, or are they adding steps to avoid potential incidents?
- Revisit past injuries and accidents. Look at each incident from the perspective that every accident is preventable. For any incident, you should have a corrective action in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. While “near misses” sometimes don't get reported because there were no injuries, consider them red flags and create a system to identify and correct them, too.
Plan – After you have completed an initial assessment, the next step is to identify ways to control or eliminate hazards. Prioritize your actions to address the highest-risk issues first.
Act – The next step is to create safety policies that address hazards and train your employees in adhering to the new rules — supervisors and managers included.
Verify – Complete the process by following up to make sure the changes are truly the correct actions. Then start the cycle over again.
Create a Culture of Safety
As you implement a safety plan and incorporate it into your culture, safety awareness will become second nature to your workforce. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Create a safety slogan that everyone can rally behind. Get your employees involved and be creative!
- Clearly explain the reasons behind the rules in your safety policy. Employees should understand why rules are in place before you ask them to follow new directions.
- Be accessible. If you are unreachable, people might assume you don't care.
- Establish consequences for not following the rules. Your system should be fair and apply to everyone.
When safety is a part of your culture, you can expect to see a number of positive results:
- Injuries and accidents should decrease.
- Workers who are trained in safety and safe operation of their equipment often operate more efficiently and are more organized.
- With preventative maintenance, machines and equipment may function better and longer.
- Productivity and quality may improve.
- Worker morale may be higher and you may enjoy reduced turnover.
Need Help on Implementing a Safety Plan?
If you need help on implementing a safety program in your workplace, consult OSHA’s handbooks, templates, training resources, and guides available for small businesses. If you are looking for additional help, the safety experts at Paychex can help you analyze your safety and risk exposures, and create a customized program for your business.
1 OSHA Small Business Handbook. Small Business Safety and Health Management Series; OSHA 2209-02R 2005, online publication.