While employee safety is important from a personnel standpoint, there’s also a financial cost to workplace accidents that result in lost productivity, insurance claims and even regulatory agency fines.
Workplace accident and injury reduction plans are required or encouraged by safety agencies in 34 states, and federal safety regulators recommend that every company, regardless of its size, develop an accident prevention plan.
Along with the direct costs of an accident, such as paying the salary of an injured worker and potential workers compensation premium increases, a company faces indirect expenses including lost production while an accident is cleaned up, overtime for other workers and the cost of hiring and training replacement workers.
Some business owners view a safety plan as a string of OSHA-required activities. But a safety program should be more than just a business’s response to OSHA requirements. An effective program establishes a focused, company-wide approach to safety that communicates with employees, identifies and controls hazards, and defines accountability throughout the organization.
It’s important to set a tone that not only encourages safe behavior in the workplace, but also helps employees understand that safety is a central part of your company’s policies and culture.
Start With a Survey
A critical step in assessing safety hazards is identifying them. Grab a notepad and conduct a wall-to-wall survey of your workplace (indoors and out) to list any potential hazards or areas where workers can injure themselves. Look for areas where workers can trip, fall or otherwise cause an accident. If your company uses chemicals, make sure they’re being stored properly. Check to see that unused tools are put away, and that your machinery maintenance is up to date.
Preventing and controlling hazards often involves a multistep process that includes:
- Eliminating the hazard through engineering controls, updating equipment, or installing safety features on existing equipment
- Controlling access or exposure hazards through administrative controls, such as locking down equipment during maintenance procedures
- Changing work practices to reduce employee exposure to hazards
- Mandating the use of personal protective equipment to protect people from hazardous materials or conditions
- Making sure safety related signage is up to date and clearly legible.
If you need professional help in surveying your workplace for risk, your company’s insurance carrier has safety professionals to identify potential hazards or areas that need improvement.
Equipment manufacturers are also concerned about the possibility of their products being used improperly, so most are willing to share helpful safety and engineering information with their customers.
Another helpful step is working with your insurance advisors, OSHA or other resources to identify industry-specific risks your company faces. The risk and regulatory profile of a construction company, for example, is different from that of the corner deli. Understanding risk is an important step in reducing workplace accidents.
Train for Safety
Effective employee training is the cornerstone of an accident prevention program. Training reduces, not only the number and severity of workplace hazards, it also reduces employee stress related to their workplace safety.
New employees must be taught how to use machinery safely. Supervisors and veteran employees should also be encouraged to watch for signs of safety complacency, such as leaving unused tools lying around or allowing waste to pile up.
Employees should also be taught how to respond after an accident. For example, they should know the location of first-aid kits and fire extinguishers to help prevent minor incidents from escalating into major problems.
Your company should encourage employees to suggest potential corrections to possible workplace hazards. Their experience can lead to helpful ideas, and involving them in workplace safety increases pride and attention to safety-related details.