The truth about workplace accidents, how to avoid them, and what to do if they happen.
An accident, by definition is something that happens unintentionally.
They can't be avoided 100% of the time simply because some things cannot be foreseen. That doesn't mean their likelihood can't be diminished greatly. In fact, in many cases workplace injuries are the direct result of not following safety precautions.
According to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, there were 4,585 deaths from workplace injuries in 2013 and there are an estimated 50,000 deaths from workplace exposure annually.
Those numbers don't even address the workers who sustain injuries, some of which may be serious enough that they can no longer physically work. [Related Article: 6 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout]
When most people think of workplace accidents, they often automatically associate them with high-risk industries, such as construction or manufacturing.
The truth is: injuries can occur in any place of employment. Professionals in the construction industry take their Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and safety procedures seriously precisely because there is a higher risk of serious injury if protocols aren't followed.
Every office and small business can and should take advantage of OSHA's Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, which can pinpoint specific hazards in the workplace and give management a detailed evaluation with tips for improvement.
How to avoid accidents in the workplace
While there are specific safety requirements for individual industries, which employers need to meet, there are often human errors that fall through the cracks simply because they're overlooked.
Workers and employers rush to complete deadlines and may not pay as close attention as they should. In other cases, there may be hazards that an employer or managers aren't aware of in their workplace.
Put safety at the forefront. Follow this list of concrete tips on how to prevent injuries from happening in the first place.
1. Keep Workspaces Clean
Most people don't think of cleanliness as a deterrent to accidents but workplace order actually does diminish the chance of injury.
A cluttered, unclean work area is more difficult to efficiently maneuver in and workers are more prone to hazards. Make sure staff adhere to something as simple as running computer cables and cords properly so that they don't create a tripping hazard.
No matter if your work environment is a manufacturing warehouse or an office cubicle, keeping the area clean and well-maintained decreases the chance of accidents.
“In many cases, pre-cautionary practices can prevent accidents,” said Attorney Marc. S. Albert in an interview.
2. Post Proper Signage
Employers should post signs reminding employees of proper safety procedures in noticeable places and in spaces where those specific procedures should be practiced.
3. Stay up to Date on Vehicle Maintenance
For employers that provide staff with company vehicles to complete daily tasks, it's imperative that cars are well maintained and serviced on a regular basis.
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This may seem obvious but according to Bankrate, the bill for accidents resulting from unperformed vehicle maintenance tops $2 billion each year.
"If you don't maintain your car, you're taking a vehicle that might have been driven for 200,000 miles over its life, and you're knocking it down to maybe 150,000 miles," said Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, in the article.
4. Report Dangers and Accidents
Most employees know that they should report an actual accident but it's important that employers encourage their staff to bring any foreseeable danger to management's attention.
5. Provide Proper Training
All staff need to be properly trained for their position. This includes teaching them how to use equipment and follow safety procedures during their course of work.
6. Provide Proper Equipment
All staff must also be equipped for their specific job. Equipment may vary from safety harnesses to proper gloves and goggles. Under no circumstances should employees perform functions without the proper equipment.
Many times accidents happen not because the safety precautions are unknown but because people take short cuts when they're familiar with their job or are in a hurry.
For example, a worker may climb without a safety harness because they only want to complete one small task and gearing up is time consuming.
That can be the difference between a minor injury and a life-threatening catastrophe.
What to do when an accident has occurred
When an accident first occurs, the number one thing is to report it immediately. Some employees don't think to report an incident if there isn't serious injury.
In reality, every accident should be reported. An injury that seems minor when it first happens can end up being more serious down the line.
The second reason it's important to report any injury immediately is because it indicates a hazard that should be addressed.
Even if the employee wasn't injured in any serious way, reporting the incident can give the employer information to make a protocol change that will prevent future accidents.
The third reason to report the injury immediately is because there is often a short span of time to report an accident for employees to be eligible for workers’ compensation coverage related to accidents.
Different states have varying mandates on the amount of time that can pass between the time of the accident and reporting an injury.
Workers' Compensation coverage will often cover injuries and all medical bills associated with injuries and may include compensation for time off work during recovery.
In many cases, this coverage will still apply whether the injured employee was at fault in causing the injury or not. Case in point: if the injured employee was not following posted safety requirements he will still often be covered under workers' compensation.
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Employers are mandated to have workers’ compensation insurance to protect workers from just such injuries. However, these laws also prevent employees from suing the employer in many, but not all, instances.
Attorney Marc. S. Albert added that there may be mitigating circumstances, which fall beyond the scope of what workmen's compensation insurance can provide to the injured employee and in these cases, professional help should be sought out.
But, at the end of the day prevention is key.
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