Employees are a business’s greatest asset, which is why workplace safety issues, including injury and illness prevention measures, should be taken seriously.
Even though the number of workplace deaths have decreased since the Occupational and Health Act became law (from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016), there are still many preventable occupational deaths that occur.
Not only are businesses obligated to provide a safe work environment but doing so makes good business sense. "Employers have a vested interest in providing a safe, healthful, and secure working environment," says Valerie Truong, senior HR generalist at Paychex.
Following the OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Program is a proven way a business can contribute to the positive trend of reducing overall workplace and injuries and reap the associated benefits. Here's what you need to know to get started:
In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illness by private industry employers. This continues a steady, downhill trend since 2003. 5,190 fatal work injuries also occurred in 2016.
Workplace violations are one indicator of workplace injuries. Fall protection, hazard communication, and respiratory protection represented a few of the top OSHA violations reported in 2017. Easily avoidable and often-overlooked hazards such as poorly stocked first aid kits can contribute to an unsafe work environment that potentially endangers staff. Poor ergonomics can also affect office staff, and risk of bloodborne pathogens is a concern for healthcare workplaces such as dental offices, medical offices, and ambulances.
OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Program
OSHA programs can help organizations prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses in the workplace. Established in 1970, the OSHA Injury and Wellness Program has played a key role in these preventions.
The program is designed as a guided process to assist employers in recognizing potential hazards before an accident can occur and to help provide managers and employees with the knowledge and tools needed to prevent injuries, illness, and fatalities. In doing so, a business can prevent work the associated suffering these events cause to workers and their families, and the financial hardships that burden both workers and employers.
Benefits of prevention
Workplace injuries and illnesses not only have emotional and physical costs, but can also be a significant financial burden on businesses in terms of workers’ compensation and fines. Additionally, there are indirect costs to consider:
- Replacement costs for damaged premises and equipment/machinery.
- Costs due to work stoppage when an accident occurs and is investigated.
- Lost productivity from recovering workers and/or training and hiring replacements.
- Administration costs to document the accident and follow-up with affected employees.
Truong also points out two other benefits that go along with a safe work environment. Not only can businesses enjoy a reduction in medical, worker's compensation, and harassment claims but they also have the peace of mind of knowing they are maintaining compliance with health and safety legislation.
How to get started
Businesses are diverse and come in all sizes, so a cookie-cutter program is not recommended. OSHA guidelines can be scaled and adapted to fit the needs of any business. That said, successful programs have similar elements, including:
- The leadership of managers and supervisors who practice what they preach.
- Workers who are educated and active participants in all aspects of the safety program.
- Hazards are identified and assessed for solutions and/or preventative measures.
- The most successful OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Programs evaluate the program elements on a regular basis, looking at and assessing what works well and what could use improvement.
There are numerous ways to start a workplace safety program, but the best time to develop a prevention program is now – well before an unexpected visit from an OSHA representative. OSHA offers sample safety and health programs that provide examples of written programs on various workplace safety and health topics. You may also want to take advantage of safety experts with deep knowledge and the ability to provide specific training and guidance.