3 Steps to Improve Workplace Safety
3 Steps to Improve Workplace Safety
Employers in the U.S. have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace for workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to “provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act.”
But many workplaces may underestimate the risks to their workers, particularly in “white collar” type job environments. There can be a tendency to think that OSHA focuses mostly or entirely on occupations like manufacturing and construction.
But some of the most commonly cited OSHA violations are those with few-to-no protections in the office environment. For examples, falls are common citations. Slipping and tripping can be considered employer negligence if it’s due to, for example, improperly placed electrical cords.
Lifting-related injuries can also be blamed on the employer if, in the course of their duties, employees are required to lift objects of an unsafe weight. It’s possible that the employer will be liable even if it’s the employee being unsafe (lifting with the back, not the legs). People unused to manual labor – hello office workers! – may underestimate the physical risk of lifting file boxes, boxes filled with printer paper, or a heavy piece of computer equipment. Even just dropping a box of paper on an employee’s toe can result in a worker’s comp claim!
1: Perform a safety audit.
This step can be as simple or as involved as you feel is appropriate. For many offices, it might be as simple as walking through the facility looking for risks like slick surfaces or wires and cords where people walk, use of ladders or standing on chairs (perhaps to reach a high bookshelf or file cabinet), an unclean environment with debris that people can trip over, etc. For bonus points, observe and consider how workers doing their normal job could compromise their health or safety. For example, sedentary workers who sit all day may suffer from some subsequent health risks. Anything from standing desks to giving employees a chance to take a walk on a break can help offset these risks.
2: Train employees on safety.
Employers aren’t automatically liable on every injury or accident, particularly if you’ve made every reasonable effort to protect employees. One of the best steps you can take: train them on proper protocols. For example, when it comes to lifting, have a policy in place that forbids office workers from lifting objects of a certain weight, and further train them how to lift properly to protect their back muscles even for lighter-weight objects. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
3: Have an emergency plan.
Don’t dawdle if there’s an accident or injury. Have emergency medical supplies on premises for minor scrapes, and have a plan for getting seriously hurt employees to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible. Make sure everyone who needs to know about the problem is alerted in a timely fashion. Aside from being the right thing to do to ensure employees get proper care, when there is an accident, employers who dot their i’s and cross their t’s will be in a better position when arguing against claims of employer negligence.
Need more information about compliance or workplace safety? CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), provides workers’ compensation and safety programs to small to mid-sized companies, along with payroll, benefits and HR best practices. To learn more about our integrated HR outsourcing solution, contact us today.