Having a safe working environment is essential, which is why you should have a plan to reduce the risks of injury.
Your employees' well-being should be a top priority, which is why it is essential to provide a safe working environment for your staff. There are also other reasons to keep employees safe: Unsafe employees can't be productive, and healthier employees produce higher-quality work. Below, we'll explain why workplace safety matters and provide plenty of workplace safety tips that are easy to implement.
Workplace safety tips to ensure your employees' well-being
Workplace injuries and illnesses occur more frequently than you might think. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace illnesses and injuries. These numbers alone provide strong grounds for business owners to prioritize workplace safety at all times.
While accidents can happen even with the best planning, there are some steps you can take to cut down on the risk of an injury occurring:
1. Conduct a workplace risk assessment.
The best place to start is by identifying and resolving any issues that could lead to harm. To achieve this goal, you should conduct a workplace risk assessment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines the steps involved in these assessments and makes it clear that you don't need to hire an expert for this task. (In other words, you or your team can conduct the assessment.)
2. Prevent falls.
Even standard offices with desks and cubicles have safety risks. In fact, almost any object can be a tripping or slipping hazard, and any employee injury suffered on your premises could be filed as a workers' compensation claim.
To help prevent these types of falls, keep pathways clear, minimize clutter, and ensure dry, slip-free floors after cleaning. For the latter purpose, floor mats are an especially convenient and affordable solution.
3. Implement a safety training program.
You should implement a workplace safety training program even if your office appears completely hazard-free. Your program should cover what to do in the case of a fire, how to use complex machinery without injury or, in certain cases, how to obtain licensure for using especially dangerous tools. Perhaps most important, you should stress that only trained employees should use dangerous equipment.
4. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE).
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE is typically thought of as face masks and medical equipment. In the context of workplace safety, however, it can be much more. For example, if your team works with high-temperature materials, PPE includes heatproof gloves. If your operations involve any sort of heavy lifting, even basics such as close-toed shoes count as PPE. And, of course, if you run a healthcare facility, medical-grade masks and other PPE are paramount.
5. Use lifting machinery.
If employees are often required to lift heavy materials, you may want to invest in lifting and transportation machinery. That said, you should consider how frequently heavy lifting occurs on your premises as you determine your equipment needs. Although buying forklifts is likely unnecessary if you just occasionally receive large shipments, this kind of equipment may be ideal if you have a warehouse full of heavy boxes.
Regardless of how often you receive heavy materials, you should teach employees proper lifting techniques. Doing so minimizes the number of back injuries your employees will experience on-site from lifting heavy materials.
6. Keep first-aid kits on hand.
First-aid kits are key tools for dealing with workplace emergencies, so it's crucial to have some on hand. You should also train your employees on how to use the first-aid kits properly.
7. Upgrade and service your equipment.
Outdated or poorly working equipment is always dangerous, so it's important to upgrade old equipment and regularly service even your newest machinery. You'll want to call in the pros to handle this task, as they're best suited to safely handle upgrades and servicing.
8. Make mental health part of workplace safety.
Taking steps to tend to your employees' mental health, and thereby lower their stress levels, makes for healthier, happier employees who perform better.
Additionally, during stressful times, employees may have difficulty with their usual tasks, and in some cases, these challenges can lead to workplace injuries. To keep employees' minds clear, allow ample time off, make sure employees are taking breaks and establish workplace mental health policies.
9. Establish an emergency plan.
Although the main goal of these workplace safety tips is to prevent emergencies, there's simply no way to prevent every accident. As such, it's wise to develop an emergency plan even if you think you've effectively implemented the other safeguards listed here.
Your emergency policies should include actions to take during natural disasters, as well as more specific – but less predictable – personal injuries. Determine how to keep dangerous items secure during natural disasters, use your first-aid kits to tend to injuries on-site and know when to seek professional medical assistance. Additionally, teach your team the warning signs of common medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes.
Separately, you should regularly check that all of your business insurance plans, including workers' comp, are still intact. This step is important because even the most thorough emergency policy can fail to prevent financial hardship if ample insurance protections aren't in place. A comprehensive emergency policy, coupled with sound insurance plans, is the best way to keep your employees safe and avoid financial trouble. [Check out our best picks for the best business insurance providers.]
The importance of workplace safety
An unsafe workplace isn't just dangerous for you and your employees; it's also harmful to your bottom line. Workplace safety affects your operations in the following ways:
Healthy employees make for a healthier business. If your unsafe workplace leads to employee sickness, then your workforce might shrink, at least temporarily. With fewer employees working, your company is less productive and thus less able to meet its revenue goals. Plus, employees who work while ill may perform worse.
Safe employees are happy employees. An unsafe workplace can discourage employees from showing up to work. As such, absenteeism and employee turnover – both of which can have negative business impacts – may increase.
Safer workplaces lead to fewer workers' compensation claims. Your company is almost certainly required to purchase workers' compensation insurance. However, as with pretty much any insurance plan, it's costly, so you should aim to file claims infrequently. A safer workplace helps achieve this goal. [Read more about the costs of workers' compensation insurance.]
- Safer workplaces result in fewer federal violations. Safe workplaces aren't just better for your workers and your business; they're also legally required. If your workplace violates OSHA's safety measures, you could face fines of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How does OSHA define workplace safety?
Although OSHA does not formally define workplace safety, it does lay out requirements for employers. Per the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers must take the following steps to ensure workplace safety:
- Ensure that their workplaces are free of serious recognized hazards.
- Maintain workplace conditions that adhere to OSHA standards.
- Provide and maintain safe employee tools and equipment.
- Warn employees of potential hazards, using clear, obvious signage.
- Post OSHA citations near unsafe spaces for three days or until the area is safe again, whichever period is longer.
- Establish safe operation procedures, and alert employees to any updates.
- Train employees in workplace safety procedures, using clear, obvious language.
- Explain safe use, incident prevention and hazardous exposure procedures for any chemicals used in the workplace.
- Keep data sheets on hand for all hazardous materials.
- Adhere to OSHA standards regarding, if applicable, training and medical examinations.
- Place an OSHA poster or your state's equivalent, if applicable, in a heavily trafficked workplace location.
- Report workplace incidents to your nearest OSHA office. The following timeline applies:
- Work-related deaths must be reported within eight hours.
- Work-related amputations, eye losses and inpatient hospitalizations must be reported within 24 hours.
- With limited exceptions, keep records of all work-related illnesses and injuries, and make them available to current and former employees.
- Share medical and exposure records with employees.
- Accommodate OSHA compliance officer requests during inspections.
- Do not discriminate against employees pursuing legal or other action under OSHA standards.