Every employer is responsible for upholding a safe work environment to support employee safety and wellness. Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Standards also mandate that certain working environment should maintain their areas free of hazards to prevent physical injury and property damage.
What Makes a Workplace Healthy and Safe?
A healthy and safe workplace entails more than merely safeguarding people from illnesses and unsafe working conditions. It also means lowered occupational injury costs, decreased absenteeism and turnover, improved productivity and quality, and greater employee morale.
Every worker is entitled to the right to work comfortably in a place that includes the following working conditions:
- Has appropriate lighting and ventilation
- Clear exits and fire emergency equipment are present
- Equipped with Personal Protective Equipment and other safety equipment
- Has access to medical supplies and medicines
- Has prepared safety procedures (e. g. LOTO safety programs, safety training)
Safety and Health Program
Safety and health program helps reduce risk, accidents, or injuries in the workplace. It also helps employers and management mitigate the severe consequences of accidents, such as repairs, compensation, and productivity and business losses. Managing health and safety programs in the workplace demands a proactive strategy that involves identifying and eliminating hazards before they cause damage or illness.
Now that you know what workplace safety is, what a safety and health program is, and what the basic requirements of a safe working environment are, here is a guide on how you, as an employer or safety manager, can support the health and safety of your employees. Let's go over them one by one.
#1 Identify Problem Areas
Before you execute your workplace safety programs, it helps to know the safety status of the workplace. This allows you to produce more precise safety solutions for your employees while minimizing future damage and risk. Here are some pointers that will assist you in identifying and controlling hazards.
- Review logs of workplace accidents as well as near accidents and health and safety issues within the workplace. You should also look at OSHA logs, first aid records, compensation reports, and all complaints filed by the employees. Analyze the data and look for possible links between these incidents and factors, such as the safety equipment used, the location in the workplace, the time of day, and the presence or lack of PPEs, among others.
- Review reports from insurance surveys, consultations, and enforcement visits. These agents can provide constructive criticism on how to improve the workplace safety culture.
- Understand OSHA regulations to ensure that the workplace is compliant with its standards. You should also check with state regulations and apply those standards.
#2 Encourage Employees To Participate
The safety measures imposed in a workplace will only succeed if everyone upholds the specified safety programs and guidelines. Because of this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced that employers must issue mandatory safety training to employees who work in hazardous environments. Employers are also encouraged to require workers to complete the necessary employee safety training for their respective positions.
Additionally, the management must diligently orient every employee on various safety procedures. This covers operating machines, responding to safety issues, and providing basic first aid to medical emergencies. Employers may even provide incentives or small rewards for workers that perfectly follow safety policies.
Finally, allow employees to freely come forward to express their health and safety concerns and suggestions on how to improve them. You can do this by fostering good communication and relationships between workers in the workplace.
#3 Prioritize The Hazards
Employers and facility management must regularly inspect the work area of possible hazards and unsafe work practices. The following are some of the most common workplace hazards and how they can be avoided.
a. Trips and Falls
According to the CDC survey, 27% of 888,270 non-fatal work injuries are related to trips and falls. This type of injury is also the most common complaint filed by employees. A simple fall can result in fractures, head injuries, back problems, cuts, sprains, and pulled muscles.
Slippage is largely caused by oil spills, wet surfaces, icy walkways, and loose mats. Tripping is caused by poor lighting, carpet issues, cables, and loose tiles. These problems may be remedied by keeping floors dry, tidying cluttered aisles and walkways, and mandating proper footwear.
b. Electrical Hazards
Electricity is one of the biggest contributors to workplace hazards that result in both fatal and nonfatal occupational accidents. Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) reports a 5.3% fatality rate among all electrical incidents.
The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index also stated that US businesses spend over a billion dollars per week addressing employee compensation for fatal and nonfatal injuries. This leads to an overall drop in morale, increased company expenses, lowered productivity, and accrued expenses for replacing employees.
The first step to eliminating electrical hazards is to prevent contact with live electricity in the workplace. Only authorized employees should come in contact with 50 volts and up power lines. Plus, all machinery must be de-energized, whether not in use or undergoing repair.
The next step is to provide protective equipment that will serve as a barrier between workers and live current. This is easily achieved through lockout and tagout devices. The use of proper LOTO devices prevents the sudden flare-up of hazardous energy during maintenance or repairs, which may cause serious injury or even death to affected employees.
c. Collision with Types of Machinery and Equipment
Heavy machinery can cause serious injuries to the operators and any worker who happens to be nearby. This type of workplace hazard can be avoided as long as an authorized person closely guards the equipment with proper safety tools, such as lockout tagout devices.
Additionally, workers must wear their personal protective equipment all the time. When operating near heavy equipment, employees must wear helmets, goggles, gloves, and suits to maintain health and safety in the workplace. Performing routine maintenance and repairs to machinery also maintains worker safety, as regular checkups lower the risk of equipment malfunction.
#4 Use Signs And Labels
Visual reminders are powerful tools for workplace safety, especially for affected employees. The six types of signs and labels include:
- Caution signs - Yellow signs with white text indicate hazardous situations that may cause minor or moderate injuries.
- Warning signs - Less severe than danger signs; orange signs with black text that indicate hazardous situations that may cause injuries or even death.
- Danger signs - Red signs with white text that warn people about life-threatening hazardous conditions that may result in serious injuries or death.
- Notice signs - Blue signs with white text that indicate information about general safety and rules.
- Safety instruction signs - Green signs with white text that indicate information related to safety.
#5 Continuously Improve Your System
Review your company's safety program and scan it for weaknesses. You may use OSHA’s self-evaluation tool to quantify your progress. Ask workers for ideas on workplace health and safety improvements and follow up on their suggestions.
Check for areas that still have recurring workplace hazards or for areas that have new safety risks and unsafe practices. Make sure to prepare checklists and document everything so that you can review them and understand how to proceed in your daily responsibilities.
Above all else, it is equally important to check in on the psychological standing of your employees. Do they feel constantly stressed? Do they struggle to keep up with employee safety training? Do they feel safer in their new work environment? Employers should also address and take care of employees' mental health in order to uphold a complete workplace safe and healthy.
The five tips we mentioned in this article on how to support employee safety and wellness in the workplace are just the tip of the iceberg when creating a safe working environment in the company. At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees workplace safety. The program must be adjusted from workplace to workplace, affected by factors such as employee count and types of machinery involved. Ultimately, as its success depends on teamwork, every employee must be involved in and adhere to the program.