How to Build and Maintain a Safe Workplace (Part 2)

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Work injuries in the U.S. resulted in 104 million lost workdays in 2017.  70 million of those were due to injuries incurred in 2017, and 34 million were due to injuries in prior years (The National Safety Council,

If that doesn’t motivate you to pay close attention to workplace safety and health, here’s another statistic from the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index:  serious, nonfatal workplace injuries amounted to more than one billion dollars per week in direct workers’ compensation costs spent by businesses on these injuries (Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety).

Last week’s article (click here for part 1) laid out an overview of some of an employers’ legal obligations relative to safety and health in the workplace.  Even if you’re operating in a relatively safe industry, you’re still required to take certain steps under the act.

Now that you know what you’re responsible for, let’s determine how you can meet those responsibilities through a safety and health program, which you can begin by using the steps below.

Basic Components of a Safety and Health Program

If you don’t have a program already in place, the first step is to create a plan to develop one.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything that’s required, but you don’t need to do everything all at once.  Start with the following key components and then add to the program over time.

In priority order, here are some of the fundamentals of a solid safety program.

  • Workers’ compensation insurance: This is required by law for nearly all employers, so if you don’t have a policy and have not approved for self-insurance, doing so should be your first step.
  • Employment posters: As mentioned in the prior article, OSHA requires employers to display a poster notifying employees of their rights; the same is true for workers’ compensation in some states.
  • Safety policy: This policy describes the organization’s philosophy regarding workplace safety as well as the responsibilities of senior leadership, management, and the entire staff.
  • Safety standards: The standards identify and document industry and organization-specific legal standards, as well as additional company standards such as what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Reporting procedures: Procedures must be made for determining and documenting the method for reporting accidents, possible hazards, and near misses.
  • Chemical hazard documentation: Obtain material safety data sheets (MSDS) from the producer of the chemical, identify a location to keep them on-site, and identify the person(s) responsible for ensuring they are updated as needed.
  • Physical job requirements: Document on all job descriptions the physical requirements of the job and determine if pre-employment physical exams are necessary to ensure employee safety.
  • Employee training: Document how existing, new, and newly transferred or promoted employees will be educated on the safety program–as well as trained on the safety standards for their particular job, who will be responsible for the training, how transfer of learning will be assessed, etc.

Beyond the Basics

Once you have established a solid basic employee safety program, you can begin to explore expanding the program to further engage employees.

One of the best ways to foster a culture of safety is to engage employees directly in the program.  Consider forming a safety committee of employees who can meet regularly to help identify gaps in the current safety program.

Safety Committee having a meetingSafety committee members can be trained to perform safety inspections in their areas and work with the human resources department to address any issues.  Their role could also include educating employees on various safety issues on an on-going basis.

There may also be issues in your workplace that don’t create a potentially dangerous situation for employees but are more about physical comfort.  For example, regulating the temperature in an office setting.

Physical comfort has a significant impact on productivity and morale, so it should be addressed promptly.  Safety committee members can escalate these issues to human resources for resolution.

A solid safety and health program reduces the odds of serious injury and ensures compliance with safety and health laws.

What else does your safety and health program include?  You can leave your answer in a comment below.

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