Workplace Health and Safety Training Programs
No matter the industry, workplace safety training for employees should be a top priority. Taking it for granted endangers workers and can cause serious regulatory and legal issues for business owners. A companywide approach to safety at work can help ensure a healthy and productive job environment.
Is your business doing everything it can to ensure a safe job environment? And how do you develop an effective health and safety policy? Not only do your workers trust you to provide a safe work environment, but having a staff health and safety policy makes good fiscal and ethical business sense. Before setting up health and safety systems in the workplace, consider the following.
What Is Workplace Health and Safety?
Workplace health and safety is 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. The 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of 2020 Fatal Occupational Injuries reports that there were 4,764 fatal work accidents in 2020, equating to a worker dying every 111 minutes from a work-related injury.
Such statistics underscore how important it is for every company to 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.
Why Is Employee Safety Important?
Keeping yourself and your employees safe in the workplace begins by establishing a proactive culture of safety. But what exactly does that mean?
For starters, beware of complacency. Everyone, especially managers, should lead by example. This means following workforce safety rules and protocols with a positive, upbeat attitude. Wearing safety glasses or other protective gear, washing hands properly, replacing dead light bulbs, taking appropriate precautions with equipment, keeping first-aid kits stocked, communicating concerns — these should all be an expectation, not just time-consuming tasks. More than that, these behaviors should get integrated into the daily work process. Relaxed attitudes and enforcement that deviate from the safety process lowers awareness, which leads to injuries.
Beyond avoiding complacency, guidelines for safety at work must be clear and backed with ongoing support. Written protocols for a safety program must be in place, understood by everyone, and examined and updated regularly.
Communication channels between staff members should be open, encouraged, and respected across the company. With communication comes engagement, and this is part of how to get employees to follow safety procedures. Help and encourage them to feel involved in workplace safety training for employees. This includes having them attend meetings on safety issues, continually monitoring for compliance, and seeking their input for improvements.
How To Protect Employers and Employees in the Workplace
For many, safety in the workplace sounds like an onerous and cumbersome topic. While some components are complex, there are simple things you can do to immediately begin protecting your workers and yourself. This includes:
- Understanding the correlation between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and workers' compensation.
- Clarifying common misconceptions about workplace safety.
- Preventing common workplace accidents.
- Implementing or improving your workplace safety program.
What Is OSHA?
To help keep companies accountable, 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 personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed, and educate workers about potential hazards in a language they can understand. The agency also helps companies by offering a wealth of information, statistics, and resources for workplace safety training for employees. Enforcement of occupational safety standards is carried out through workplace inspections and required reporting.
Workers' Compensation: Safety Is the Bottom Line
OSHA is responsible for overseeing safety at the workplace. Consequently, following OSHA's guidelines is a proven way a business can contribute to the positive trend of reducing overall workplace injuries and reap the associated benefits. It's a straightforward correlation: a safe work environment equates to lower claims. Insurance companies that offer workers' compensation can provide better pricing to a business with a history of fewer claims.
Common Misconceptions About Safety in the Workplace
There are many myths about safety in the workplace. Donna Mandell, a Paychex safety and loss expert with more than 30 years' experience, has consulted with hundreds of clients. She shares six fallacies about workplace safety:
- Blaming others: People who are part of an accident tend to blame someone. Accusations, "It's all your fault," "You didn't do this right," are commonly heard. "In fact, many factors may lie behind an accident. Perhaps something wasn't set up right or procedures weren't clear enough. You have to look into all reasons and come up with a corrective action," Mandell says.
- Throwing money at a problem will make accidents go away: "Sometimes just a simple, inexpensive fix can resolve an issue, such as lighting a dark stairwell," Mandell explains. Other simple fixes may include adjusting a computer monitor or keyboards for better ergonomics or even enforcing safety protocols that are currently in place such as washing hands properly or wearing safety devices. In other words, preventing accidents doesn’t have to be expensive.
- Talking about safety is the same as making it happen: "Companies often say they believe in safety and talk a lot about safety but when production is involved, then it's 'I don't care what you have to do to get the job done,'" Mandell says. "Workers react to that. They start cutting corners and that's when accidents happen." When a company's actions don’t align with their verbal commitments, it erodes employees' trust in the company, which negatively affects the work environment. Employees should expect to go to work and come home at the end of the day without injury.
- Assigning responsibility to one person makes safety in the workplace happen: It helps to have a designated safety manager, but a workplace safety program is a team effort from the bottom up and the top down. "Everyone needs to be involved with the same mindset and common goal of safety. Management needs to drive procedures and policies, and everyone on the floor participates with feedback. Communication is key," Mandell emphasizes.
- Thinking that having a safety manual makes your company OSHA-compliant: Having a manual on the shelf does nothing. Mandell warns that you need to actually have policies and procedures in place and effectively communicate these procedures to employees, so everyone understands what needs to be done.
- Believing that your company is too small to need to comply with OSHA rules: It's true that some small businesses may be exempt from workers' compensation responsibilities, but don't confuse OSHA with workers' compensation. Mandell says emphatically: "Even if you have only one employee, OSHA applies to you."
Common OSHA Violations
Fall protection, hazard communication, and respiratory protection represented a few of the top OSHA violations reported in 2020.
As an experienced safety expert, Mandell says she sees violations most commonly in communications about hazardous materials: chemicals and blood-borne pathogens.
"We're talking about the right-to-know law. Even if you have only one chemical at your worksite, everyone has the right to know about the potential hazards that chemical poses," Mandell says.
In healthcare workplaces — such as medical offices, dental offices, and ambulances — blood-borne pathogens pose a major concern. Microorganisms such as COVID-19, hepatitis C, and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS can all be transmitted in human blood and body fluids.
Ergonomics for a Healthy Workplace
Often overlooked, poor ergonomics can also pose risk of injury. Ergonomics applies to those sitting at a desk all day, working on an assembly line, standing in certain positions, reaching in awkward positions, or doing any kind of forceful or repetitive motion.
According to Mandell, a company can implement many ergonomic fixes with close observation and minor adjustments. It's important to listen to employee complaints and act promptly, rather than push the problem down the road. The sooner an employer solves a problem, the fewer expenses will be incurred in the long run.
Common Workplace 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. For example, 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 workplace health and safety training and 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 Lock Down 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.
How Do I Create a Workplace Safety Plan?
Many commonsense actions will improve the safety of your workplace, prevent injury, and keep employees healthy. After all, workforce safety and wellness are directly correlated. Here are eight steps you can take to provide a safe and healthy environment as part of your overall safety program.
Conduct a Safety Walkthrough
A workplace inspection can reveal gaps in your current safety plan. This process allows managers to assess various safety procedures, behaviors, and observed hazards within a workspace or department. 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 document your workplace procedures. Employees should receive 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 in the workplace 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 pandemic has increased the awareness of sanitation procedures in the workplace. A 2021 survey* conducted by Oasis, a Paychex company, found that 68% of respondents said 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 employees are working in an office or at home, remind them 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 wearing 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 COVID-19 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.
Launching a Workplace Health and Safety Program
If you don't have a workplace safety program or staff health and safety policy, the time to launch one is immediately. There are several resources you can turn to help get your efforts underway. OSHA offers sample work health and safety programs for specific jurisdictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another source of information with its four-step workplace health model based on your company's size, sector, capacity, and geography.
If you'd like a professional risk management review or an independent opinion of your safety risks, Risk Management Services are available to help you assess your risk, develop and implement the most current and effective industry procedures, and adhere to OSHA standards. Safety programs are also available through our PEO Services, which includes a dedicated safety representative to help you establish a workplace safety program for your business.
* 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).