According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020 saw a whopping 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and 4,764 fatalities in the United States. These concerning numbers show just how important it is for employers to ensure workplace safety, regardless of the size of your company. And it’s not just because, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace safety is every employee’s legal right. A safe work environment attracts employees, improves work satisfaction, and increases productivity as well.
Workplace safety covers all factors that impact employees’ health, safety, and well-being, and refers to the mitigation of any elements that can cause harm to workers or equipment. Such elements can include environmental hazards, unsafe working conditions, workplace violence, issues with equipment, and even drug or alcohol abuse. Ensuring a safe work environment requires a combination of workplace safety programs or policies, behaviors, precautions, and procedures to ensure worker safety and well-being. Workplace safety is a legal requirement, monitored by OSHA at the national level.
In this article, we’ll outline why workplace safety is vital and guide you through some best practices that will help you ensure a safe workplace for all your employees.
5 Reasons Workplace Safety Is Important
There can be health and safety risks in any company, no matter the industry. For example, an IT firm’s office may have faulty wires or electronics, causing electrical hazards. A factory handling hazardous chemicals causes health risks. So, workplace safety needs to be ensured no matter the size or type of your company. Here are some reasons why it’s so important.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 defines certain rights for employees and places obligations on employers to ensure the safety and well-being of their workers. Under the act, employees must be told about all hazards in the workplace and about the health and safety laws applicable to the business. They should also receive safety training to avoid the hazards. If they suspect that the laws are being broken, workers can confidentially file a complaint with the government without fear of retaliation.
As for employers, it is their duty to proactively seek out workplace hazards and address safety concerns before they cause harm. They must try to mitigate or remove as many hazards as possible and employees must know how to handle any hazards that can’t be removed. If these regulations are not followed, OSHA, which enforces the regulations, may issue citations or impose hefty fines.
But regulatory compliance is not the only reason why workplace safety is important. There are several direct and indirect benefits to ensuring a safe work environment.
2. Employee Retention
If you ensure a safe workplace, it shows employees that you care about their safety and general well-being. So employees who feel safe at work are more loyal and tend to stay longer in the company, while those who don’t feel safe are much more likely to leave and look for new opportunities. And since the financial cost of turnover is extremely high (between half to twice the employee’s annual salary, according to Gallup), it is always better to ensure retention.
3. Employee Productivity
Employees who feel safe at work are generally more productive than those who don’t (or those who have been injured in the past). This is because poor or unsafe working conditions are more likely to make employees uncomfortable and anxious, which diverts their focus away from work. And productive employees are more efficient, producing more work in less time and thus reducing operational costs.
4. Financial Considerations
According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, for every dollar a company invests in safety, there is a $4 return on investment. This is backed up by the fact that if it is discovered that OSHA regulations are not being followed, or that safety and health standards are not being met, it can lead to serious fines and other liabilities. And if there is a workplace accident or injury, there may be legal issues over and above workers’ compensation costs. There may also be other financial considerations involved, such as:
- The cost to find a temporary or permanent (depending on the extent of injury) replacement for an injured worker
- The cost of replacement or repair for damaged equipment during a workplace incident
- Reduced operational costs and increased revenue due to higher productivity of safe and healthy workers
5. Company Reputation
Companies with unsafe work environments can easily develop a poor reputation. This would have an impact on talent attraction and recruitment efforts, and customers, clients, and competitors perceive them as unprofessional. This could lead to loss of customers as they would look to competitors for the product or service. It could also cause the loss of good talent as employees don’t want to work in unsafe conditions. On the other hand, if you keep your employees safe and happy, you’re more likely to gain a good reputation in the market.
Workplace Safety Best Practices
To ensure worker safety, you need robust safety strategies or policies in place, and well-defined procedures to implement these policies. Here are some workplace safety tips and best practices you can follow to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
Be Aware of Workplace Safety Hazards
The first step towards creating a safe workplace is to identify what the safety issues and hazards are. Only after they are identified can you take steps to address them.
Hazards can include ergonomic issues, dangerous chemicals, faulty equipment, electrical problems, slipping/tripping hazards, and environmental risks. You can implement various procedures to identify hazards and update your knowledge, such as regular safety audits and thorough incident investigations whenever there’s an accident or near miss. It’s also important to encourage employees to report any safety concerns. Any fears of retaliation for reporting these issues should be put to rest, and employees should be reassured that the concerns will be addressed. Better yet, implement an anonymous reporting system to enable more people to raise their concerns.
Define and Implement Robust Workplace Safety Policies
An effective way to ensure workplace safety is to create a well-documented safety policy and define specific procedures to handle safety issues based on the policy. Good record-keeping is essential here as employees must be able to refer to the policy documents when in doubt. Of course, these policies and procedures must be implemented properly for them to actually work. You should remind employees of the importance of following the guidelines through regular safety meetings and clearly state the risks of not following them to ensure cooperation from all employees.
Institute Effective Safety Communication
Your workplace safety strategy will only be successful if you communicate it properly to everyone in your organization. This communication should ideally start as early as during the interview process, to ensure that your employees are onboard with your values. Articulate any safety concerns and requirements during the interview, and follow it up with a comprehensive safety training program during onboarding. After that, keep up continuous communication with employees about safety by:
- Ensuring that employees know where to look for safety plans and other documents related to safety procedures
- Letting employees know about updated policies, new equipment, new processes, and more
- Including clear instructions about what safety issues workers should report and how to report them in the safety documentation
- Ensuring that hazardous materials or machinery are clearly labeled and displayed prominently
- Having a communication system in place in case of any accidents or work-related injuries, to broadcast safety alerts to all employees as well as allow them to respond with information or questions
Provide Proper Safety Training
A workplace can’t be made safe just with policies, however well-documented they may be. Employees need to know the hazards and take appropriate precautions. If they use heavy machinery or handle hazardous chemicals, they must have the knowledge and skills to safely do their work.
These skills and knowledge can be provided through standardized safety training covering topics like hazard awareness and response, basic first aid training, fire safety, and more, as relevant to your workplace. Such training is best delivered regularly, in the form of lectures as well as hands-on learning.
An effective way to train workers in safe working procedures is to get other workers who have experience with the specific type of work to teach the trainees. That way, workers can learn from each other (and teaching would reinforce the procedures for the trainers), and anyone who has seen or experienced an emergency situation can share their experience.
Encourage Employees to Make Safety a Priority
All possible safety procedures, policies, and written documentation is not enough if employees are not committed to keeping the workplace safe. You can appoint safety managers and consultants, train employees, and more, but the effectiveness of all of that depends on a strong safety culture. Here are some tips to encourage employee engagement and strengthen your workplace safety culture:
- Create a simple (and preferably anonymous) way for employees to report safety concerns, and make sure the concerns are addressed
- Offer ongoing incentives to reward behaviors that prevent injury or help to eliminate unsafe work practices
- Recognize and praise employees who are willing to report safety concerns openly
- Encourage workers to approach and communicate with any co-worker engaging in unsafe practices
- Reward employees who come up with practical solutions to address any safety concerns
Provide Appropriate Safety Equipment
Some kinds of work, such as construction work, welding, electrical work, etc. require safety gear to prevent workplace injuries. Such protective gear can be the difference between life and death in case of accidents.
Employees who work with chemicals, machines, electronics, etc. must be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) that is safely designed and fits comfortably. PPE includes gloves, protective clothing, boots, vision and hearing protection, helmets, hard hats, harnesses, and even medical masks (important now due to COVID). It is your duty as an employer to ensure that everyone has good, comfortable safety gear, and to replace such equipment quickly and easily if any piece of gear is missing.
Prioritize Emotional as Well as Physical Well-Being
Workplace stress can cause issues like anxiety, depression, and more. It can even lead to loss of focus, which could increase the risk of accidents. So, it’s important to remember that employee well-being is about more than physical safety and health. Encourage employees to take regular breaks to prevent tiredness and burnout, and institute wellness programs, counseling services, and more to combat workplace stress.
Treat Workplace Violence as a Safety Issue
So far, we’ve mostly discussed external hazards in the work environment that may compromise worker safety. But workplace violence can also cause harm to employees. Even a single act of violence can adversely affect the working environment, causing employees to be anxious and reducing productivity drastically. It can also have legal implications as violence in the workplace, if not dealt with, can expose the company to lawsuits worth millions of dollars.
To prevent and minimize the chances of workplace violence, the most important step is to institute and clearly communicate a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of violence or related behavior, including bullying, harassment, verbal or sexual abuse, or discrimination of any kind. This policy should be backed up by ironclad action if such violence does occur, taking appropriate action on the perpetrator no matter how high up in the management they may be.
Make Your Work Easier by Automating Workplace Safety Procedures
In a nutshell, ensuring workplace safety is one of the most important responsibilities that business owners have. There can be financial and legal consequences if working conditions are unsafe, and the return on investment for instituting safety practices is undeniable. To ensure safety, a robust safety policy must be defined and documented, and employees must be trained and knowledgeable about safety procedures. This involves a lot of communication and collaboration between different teams and upper management, and a lot of paperwork as well. If everything is done manually, you may be so busy taking care of safety that there will be no time left to do any actual work.
The best solution for this is to use an automated safety management system such as Pulpstream to streamline your processes. With such a platform, you can do things like:
- Keep all your documentation in one place and control access to it, so that your employees can see everything that is relevant to them
- Set up company-wide alerts and communications to keep everyone updated about any policy updates or new procedures, and also to inform them about any incidents
- Create an anonymous reporting system for workers to express their safety concerns
- Store safety training materials
- Create system notifications when any equipment is due for maintenance
Make your workplace safer today with Pulpstream. Book a free demo now!