Workplace safety and health is one of the most difficult goals for employers to achieve. A worker is injured on the job every seven seconds, leading to 104 million lost production days in a year. Employees in the medical, manufacturing and construction industries are especially prone to the top three types of injuries that result in lost workdays — sprains and strains, chronic or acute pain and cuts or lacerations.
The specific vulnerabilities of your workplace depend on the industry you serve. Medical professionals are at high risk of needle sticks as well as infections. Construction workers have less potential to pick up an infection from work but are more likely to fall from a height or get injured by mishandled equipment. Across all industries, slips and falls account for about $70 billion in health care costs annually.
Improving workplace safety and taking a preventative approach can keep your workers healthy and on the job. Better safety practices also reduce your company’s chances of having to pay workers’ compensation and face higher insurance rates after an injury. In combination with your specialized knowledge of your workplace, the following 10 tips can help you strengthen your workplace safety culture.
1. Preventative Training
Every workplace has a training program, but some are more comprehensive than others. It’s not enough to hand employees a manual on general safety and hope they take it all in. The most effective training is hands-on and contains real-world examples of things that can potentially go wrong in your specific workplace.
Effective safety training should always address the top 10 most frequently cited standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These are the cited standards and industries that racked up the most violations from 2017 to 2018:
- Fall protection – Construction
- Hazards communication standards – General industry
- Scaffolding – General requirements, construction
- Respiratory protection – General industry
- Control of hazardous energy – General industry
- Ladders – Construction
- Powered industrial trucks – General industry
- Fall protection training requirements – General industry
- Machinery and machine guarding – General industry
- Eye and face protection – General industry
You’ll notice that construction is the only specific industry mentioned on the list, although all of the general industry standards apply to construction as well. Tailor your training program to ensure workers are getting the most relevant safety information. If you’re training construction workers, you’ll need training that covers every item on the above list. If you’re developing a work safety program for doctors and nurses, you can likely skip or pare down sections on scaffolding and ladders.
2. Emergency Training
Preventative training is essential, but employees should also know what to do in the event of a workplace injury. For example, if a factory worker falls off a ladder and appears unconscious, coworkers may try to move the injured worker. Even if done with the best of intentions, moving an individual who has fallen from height can worsen an injury — especially when the spinal cord is involved.
Ensure employees have access to an emergency plan so they know what action to take and who to call in case of a sudden severe injury. With a specific policy in place, cooler heads can prevail and danger can be better contained.
3. Workplace Safety and Health Incentive Program
Incentive programs that encourage employees to actively participate in workplace safety have been controversial among employers. OSHA has now clarified that companies can use incentive programs to promote workplace safety and health as long as employers implement them properly.
One type of program OSHA recommends is based on rates of reported illness and injuries. For example, you might give out a variety of prizes or small bonuses at the end of every injury-free month. To successfully implement this type of program, you need to ensure employees don’t get bored or take the program for granted. It’s important to emphasize the incentive program as a bonus for participating in your culture of safety — not the entire reason to practice safety.
Incentive programs should extend to management as well. One way to do this is to integrate safety goals into evaluations, so managers treat safety as a core value rather than a secondary goal.
4. Preemptive Inspections
You don’t want to find out you’re non-compliant on safety regulations after an OSHA inspection. These inspections can happen at any time, and citations can come with heavy penalties for your business. Companies that bid for government work can lose out on huge contracts if they exceed a preset number of citations. And of course, if you’re in violation of any safety regulations, you’re also putting your workers in unnecessary danger.
To ensure your workplace safety and health regulations are up to OSHA standards, you should be conducting mock inspections regularly. Inspections can be done by a designated person in your organization with one of the many practice OSHA checklists available. If your company is large enough and has the funds, it may be a good idea to hire expert consultants who specialize in mock inspections for your particular industry.
Preemptive inspections can raise red flags and allow you to prevent potential issues from becoming real problems. Scheduling them randomly sets the expectation that all employees follow regulations and policies consistently. Inspections also provide an opportunity for you to recognize safety excellence in action, which is crucial to creating a permanent culture of safety.
5. Competitor Gap Analysis
A new rule that went into effect in 2017 requires companies with over 250 employees to share data on workplace illnesses and injuries with OSHA. The rule also applies to some smaller employers who operate in risky industries such as construction or waste management. OSHA makes this data available to employers, after stripping it of identifying information on the injured or sick employees.
This means you can compare your safety performance with direct competitors and find out which areas you need to improve. If you learn your competitor has a much smaller number of slip-and-fall accidents than your company, you can use that as a starting point to experiment with improvements in your own system. Specific data also allows you to set more actionable goals to improve your safety policies and procedures.
If you discover you are outperforming the competition in one or more areas, take note so you can isolate what’s working and apply it to other areas.
6. Employee Feedback System on Workplace Safety and Health
It’s essential for employees to feel safe reporting health and safety concerns at work. An incentive program can help, but only if there’s a strong system for feedback in place. Workers are often the first to spot potential issues, but they may fail to report them for fear of retaliation from coworkers, supervisors or managers. To counteract this fear, set up a system where employees can give feedback anonymously if they wish.
Ensure workers receive confirmation that their reports have been noted and let them know what actions you’ll take to address them. It’s also a good idea to involve employees in the search for solutions to any issues they report.
Open communication about safety is necessary to avoid preventable incidents. Introducing an open dialogue on safety helps employees understand that it’s never the wrong time to report an injury, illness, hazard or other concern.
7. Workplace Safety and Health Emphasis for Younger Workers
OSHA defines young workers as employees ages 16 to 24. These employees are twice as likely to end up in the emergency room as workers 25 and older. There are a few reasons young employees are more likely to be injured on the job:
- Inexperience: Younger workers simply haven’t experienced enough workplace situations to recognize as many varieties of hazards. They don’t know enough to ask questions, and may not be getting enough guidance from more experienced coworkers.
- Development: Young brains and bodies are still growing, and may not be able to respond to certain situations quickly enough to avoid injury.
- Part-time and seasonal tendencies: Many young employees work on a part-time or seasonal basis. These positions often come with less-than-thorough training despite OSHA guidelines, simply because they are not full-time jobs.
Young workers are building a knowledge base about their new jobs, and this is a great opportunity to make sure they get off on the right foot when it comes to safety. It’s always easier to help form a habit than to try to break an employee of their old ones. Pairing up younger workers with more experienced mentors you trust to follow safety policies is a smart way to instill a culture of workplace safety and health awareness from the start.
8. Accessible Documentation
Employees should be able to access information on your safety systems and policies at any time. A handbook is the absolute bare minimum, but often does not help when an employee has a specific question about a particular regulation. It’s a good idea to keep a large poster of your top safety priorities in a highly visible area such as a break room where everyone can see and consult it with ease.
The best way to make documentation and policies available to employees is through an online portal. Moving everything online allows for quick and uniform updates, and lets employees to search through documents for specific terms.
Making your policies and documentation readily available to everyone empowers employees and demonstrates your commitment to a culture of safety.
9. Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) Emphasis
Controlling hazardous energy is one of the biggest challenges workers face in industrial and research work settings. Workers are handling complex and dangerous machines, so the lockout/tagout process for your workplace can make the difference between safe service and severe injury. When an employee is injured due to hazardous energy exposure, the average time for recovery is 24 days. LOTO makes the list of top 10 citations every year, and OSHA inspections often place heavy emphasis on this area.
Documentation is crucial to LOTO compliance and necessary to ensure employees can safely perform their maintenance and repair duties with respect to your specific machinery. Every employee should have access to the procedures for safely locking out machines and equipment for maintenance or repairs. All lockout devices should be standardized, and it helps to store devices in a designated area so employees can easily find the appropriate equipment.
Strong communication is needed between the workers authorized to lock out machinery, the employees whose work will be affected by the lockout and management to ensure safety awareness and proper adherence to procedures.
10. Safety Wear and Personal Protective Equipment
Providing ample and appropriate protective gear is the simplest way to keep your employees safer. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the first line of defense between workers and basic hazards like cuts and infection. OSHA emphasizes that workers have the right to PPE if their job puts them at risk. Having enough protective equipment on hand is crucial, as is recognizing the type of gear best suited to your workplace. These are the most basic types of PPE:
- Gloves: Workers use their hands in every aspect of the job, and hands are the most likely to sustain injury from cuts or lacerations. Hand injuries are the second most common injury resulting in missed workdays and job transfers. The appropriate glove depends on your industry. Construction workers need thick, durable work gloves with above-average grip to handle heavy materials, tools and irregular or sharp objects. Food production and medical workers need to keep everything sterile and avoid the transmission of pathogens with disposable gloves.
- Coveralls: Workers dealing with hazardous materials or sterile environments need coveralls to minimize risk on the job. Some types of coveralls are chemical-resistant, fire-resistant or rated for heavy-duty wear. An ample stock of coveralls is a must for most industries.
- Hard hats: Construction and manufacturing workers, in particular, have to contend with the possibility of falling objects, and hard hats are the only way to properly defend against these injuries. Many workers need only a basic design to defend against hard knocks, but there are numerous upgrades that enhance safety in certain situations. For example, workers in a very hot environment can prevent exhaustion by wearing hats with built-in neck shades and workers in loud factories can preserve their hearing with earmuff caps.
- High-visibility workwear: There’s no excuse for an accident that happens because someone wasn’t visible. Employees should always have high-visibility workwear when performing jobs outdoors or at night, and it’s required by law in many situations. For instance, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires that all employees performing work on highways exposed to traffic must wear high-visibility workwear.
- Shoe covers: Shoes can track in any number of dangerous pathogens, so workers in medical or otherwise sterile environments need to mitigate that risk with shoe covers. Covers with water resistance and non-slip bottoms ensure safety for both workers and the environments they need to keep clean.
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Safety management represents a core value in any successful business. Preventing accidents and injuries should always be a top priority, and PalmFlex is ready to be your partner in workplace safety and health with our extensive selection of personal protective equipment. We specialize in quick and professional customer service and offer you exceptional value with low bulk pricing and free shipping on orders over $80 in the continental United States. Contact PalmFlex today to see how we can help you improve workplace safety and health with affordable, effective workwear.