Keeping Employees Safe in the Workplace:  A Win-Win

December 20, 2019
Posted in: Uncategorized

Table of Contents


 
 

As an employer, one of your chief responsibilities is to ensure the safety of your employees. One way to do that is to implement a company safety program that addresses all situations that could put your employees at risk of injury. By being proactive, you’ll not only stay in the good graces of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) but you can reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits that employees may file against your business. Establishing a company safety program can also qualify you for a 25% reduction in any OSHA fines. OSHA’s citations can carry fines that range from $13,260 per violation up to $132,598 per willful or repeat violation, based on the adjusted penalty amounts that took effect January 23, 2019.  

 

walkie talkie

 

Components of an Effective Safety Program

 
An effective company safety program will entail much more than a first aid kit. The complexity of your safety program will depend on the amount of risk associated with your business activity – it should be thorough enough to give you the tools necessary for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. If your small business has few risks associated with it, your program should be relatively simple. On the other hand, if your business is in a hazardous industry, your safety program will require more policies and procedures and may require hiring a safety director to oversee the program.

According to OSHA, “an effective occupational safety and health program will include the following four main elements: management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training”. 

 

Management Commitment & Employee Involvement


Management’s commitment to the program provides the motivation and resources for organizing and controlling activities within the company. In an effective program, management considers worker safety and health to be as essential as other company goals. Employee involvement provides the means by which employees express their own commitment to safety and health protection for themselves and their fellow employees.

Some recommended actions: 

  • Clearly state a workplace policy on safe and healthful working conditions, so that all employees fully understand the priority and importance of safety and health protection in the company.
  • Establish and communicate a clear goal for the safety and health program and define objectives for meeting that goal so that all employees understand the results desired and measures planned for achieving them.
  • Encourage employee involvement in the development and operation of the program and in decisions that affect their safety and health so that they dedicate their insight and energy to achieving the program’s goal and objectives.

 

checklist

 

Worksite Analysis

 

A thorough and practical analysis of the work environment involves a variety of worksite inspections to identify existing hazards and conditions that could create new hazards. 

 

Some recommended actions:

 

  • Conduct regular site inspections to identify any new or missed hazards and failures in hazard controls.
  • Conduct worksite surveys for safety and health issues and involve employees in this effort.
  • Analyze injury and illness trends so that the cause of recurring incidents can be identified and prevented.

 

Hazard Prevention & Control


Workplace hazards are often prevented by effective design of the job site or job. Where it’s not feasible to eliminate these hazards, they must be controlled to prevent exposure to unsafe conditions.  

 

Some recommended actions:

  • Establish safe work practices and procedures and ensure that they’re understood and followed by all employees. If necessary, implement a clearly communicated disciplinary system to encourage compliance.
  • Maintain the building and equipment to prevent equipment breakdowns.

 
Safety & Health Training

Training is an essential component of an effective safety and health program. The complexity of training depends on the size and complexity of the worksite as well as the nature of the hazards and potential hazards at the site.

Some recommended actions:

 

  • Reinforce employee training on the nature of potential hazards in their work and on needed protective measures through continual performance feedback and, if necessary, through enforcement of safe work practices. 

 

caution


Most Frequently Cited OSHA Violations

 
The violations that were most often cited by OSHA last year were in fall protection in the construction field. This isn’t surprising since falls contributed to 381 out of 971 (39.2%) total deaths in construction in 2017. A newcomer on OSHA’s most-cited list was eye/face protection, also in construction. 

The following were the top 10 most frequently cited standards by Federal OSHA in fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018):

 

  1. Fall protection, construction 
  2. Hazard communication standard, general industry  
  3. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction  
  4. Respiratory protection, general industry  
  5. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry. Lockout/tagout involves ensuring that the energy source of machines/equipment is properly shut down during servicing and maintenance. 
  6. Ladders, construction  
  7. Powered industrial trucks, general industry  
  8. Fall protection–training requirements  
  9. Machinery and machine guarding, general requirements  
  10. Eye and face protection—Involves having appropriate personal protective equipment for employees exposed to hazards. Companies aren’t providing employees with adequate eye/face protection or aren’t monitoring workplaces and/or job sites regularly to ensure the use of any provided protective gear. 


OSHA’s violations list can offer insight into what’s under its scrutiny, but ultimately it’s your responsibility as an employer to assess the risks in your workplace or on job sites. To protect your employees, you need to identify the hazards that could lead to serious injuries. Should injuries occur, track them to see how they can be prevented in the future. This will help reduce your workers’ compensation premiums and claims, and minimize your chances of receiving an OSHA citation.

In fiscal year 2018, there were 32,020 total federal OSHA inspections, a slight decrease from 32,408 in the previous year. OSHA recently announced it will focus on companies that have electronically submitted information that confirmed their high injury rates. 

To get in front of an OSHA citation, see what other companies in your industry have been cited for.   Considering OSHA’s increase in penalty amounts this year, it’s important that you do this. It’s most important, however, for the safety of your employees.  

You may also want to check out your region’s Local Emphasis Program (LEP). LEPs are enforcement strategies designed and implemented at the OSHA regional and/or area office levels. These programs are intended to address hazards or industries that pose a particular risk to employees in the office’s jurisdiction. These LEPs will be accompanied by outreach intended to make employers in the area aware of the program as well as the hazards that the programs are designed to reduce or eliminate. This outreach may be in the form of informational mailings, training at local trade shows, or speeches at meetings of industry groups or labor organizations.

There are ten OSHA regions with each region providing support to four or more states. For example, Region 1 provides support to Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Here are the LEPs currently offered to companies in Region 1:
 


The above directives are currently only available in PDF format and can be found on the OSHA website at https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/lep

 

Other Considerations

 
OSHA provides a wealth of support and information to help employers maintain safe workplaces so the adage “ignorance of the law is no excuse” definitely applies here. If you should have known of a hazard in your work environment, OSHA will penalize you as if you knew. 

Need more help identifying potential hazards? 

  • Many workers’ compensation insurance companies will provide a safety professional to conduct a walkthrough of your workplace and job sites to identify potential hazards.
  • Contact your state labor department’s Division of Safety and Health to see if they offer employers free on-site consultations similar to the program offered by New York state. 

 

slip

 

Preventing the Most Common Workplace Injuries

 
The most frequently cited OSHA violations above are focused more on construction and manufacturing environments. However, ALL workplaces pose potential threats to employee safety. To keep employees safe and minimize workers’ compensation claims (and premium increases), you need to be aware of the most common workplace injuries. And, as you know, “knowing is half the battle”. By being aware of these potential threats, you can devise a plan to effectively mitigate them. 

  • Slip & Fall Accidents
  • Back or Neck Strains
  • Repetitive-Use Injuries
  • Injury from Falling Objects
  • Cuts & Lacerations
  • Collisions & Crashes
  • Fumes or Chemical Inhalation & Exposure
  • Fights Between Employees
  • Exposure to Loud Noises
  • Walking into Objects

 

Slip & Fall Accidents

A slip-and-fall accident occurs when an employee slips on a slippery or wet surface and falls. This type of accident can also occur if an employee trips over objects such as supplies or a co-worker’s haphazardly placed belongings. In the fall, the employee may suffer head injuries, broken bones, or other injuries.  

To prevent slip & fall accidents:

  • Spills should be cleaned immediately.
  • “Caution” and/or “wet floor” signs should be used after mopping or spills to warn others.
  • Place non-skid tape on stairs and under rugs.
  • Install handrails on all staircases. 
  • Insist that employees’ shoes have non-slippery soles. Especially important in restaurant kitchens where staff is highly likely to encounter wet floors.
  • Implement a policy that prohibits placement of supplies and personal belongings in pathways.

 

Back or Neck Strains

Back or neck strains are among the most common workplace injuries and typically occur when an employee is attempting to lift a heavy box or object. Extreme instances can involve a disc being thrown out of alignment, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation. Neck strain is common among employees whose jobs require being on the phone for extended periods. Sudden jerking movement to stop falling items can also lead to injury. 

To prevent back or neck strains:

  • Require that employees who use the phone for extended periods do so with proper ergonomics in place. 
  • Train employees in smart lifting procedures which include lifting with their knees instead of bending forward.
  • Consult the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Work Practices Guide for Manual Lifting
  • Equip employees with safety harnesses, back braces, back belts, or other lift aids. 

 

Repetitive-Use Injuries

One of the most common workplace repetitive-use injuries is carpal tunnel syndrome which afflicts around 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. The jobs that have high rates of incidence are those that require employees to use their hands for forceful and repetitive tasks such as sewing clothing, butchering meat or repeatedly lifting heavy items, or where employees maintain an awkward posture while working, like driving a car, working on an assembly line, typing, or computer work.

To prevent repetitive-use injuries:

  • Insist that employees who perform repetitive tasks take regular breaks. 
  • Consider upgrading to ergonomic workstations to reduce instances of repetitive-use injuries.
  • Train employees in the proper way to position their bodies while performing their jobs.
  • Where possible, automate repetitive tasks on assembly or production lines. 

 

Injury from Falling Objects

Disorganized, unkempt workplace environments are especially at risk for this type of injury. Books and supplies haphazardly placed atop file cabinets or on shelves could fall and cause serious injury to employees. Even worse, the file cabinets themselves could fall onto employees. Improperly mounted signs and wall art also place employees in peril. 

To prevent injury from falling objects:

  • Insist that employees use step stools when placing items overhead. This will ensure that they’re placed in such a way that they’re unlikely to fall. 
  • Don’t store heavy items on top of cabinets or on shelves.
  • To keep file cabinets from tipping over, use anchor or locking devices. 
  • Require that employees keep their workstations clean and that all supplies and books be securely stored. 

 

Cuts & Lacerations

A workers’ compensation claim can be filed if an employee receives a cut or laceration while using a letter opener, box cutter, or another sharp tool in your workplace. Sharp edges on office machines or broken furniture can also result in serious injury. A deep enough paper cut could lead to a workers’ compensation claim. 

To prevent cuts and lacerations:

  • Regularly inspect office machines, furniture, and other equipment to ensure that they’re in good condition and free of sharp or jagged edges.
  • In your company safety program, include training on the proper use of sharp tools. 
  • Consider establishing policies that limit what certain tools can be used for. 

 

 

machinery

 

Collisions & Crashes

If employees are involved in collisions or crashes in tractor-trailers, forklifts or other small mobile machinery while on the job, these common workplace injuries are typically not covered by a commercial auto insurance policy. Any injuries sustained during a collision are cause for a workers’ compensation claim which can increase your workers’ compensation insurance premiums. 

To prevent collisions and crashes:

  • Train employees on the proper use of mobile machinery, such as tractors or forklifts, to prevent crashes.
  • Conduct drug testing of new employees and retest at regular intervals.  
  • Ensure that you’re hiring safe drivers by requiring that employees provide driver’s license details and claims history.

 

Fumes or Chemical Inhalation & Exposure

Employees who work around chemicals such as pesticides, toxic cleaning products, and dyes may experience short- or long-term effects of exposure. These effects can range from lightheadedness and headaches to chronic conditions like emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In environments without proper ventilation (i.e. libraries), fumes can build up and cause what’s known as sick building syndrome (SBS). This can happen in other types of businesses as well.  The symptoms of SBS include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, and muscle aches. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SBS costs businesses billions of dollars each year in employee downtime and workers’ compensation claims. 

To prevent fumes or chemical inhalation and exposure:

  • Require that employees wear masks and respirators when working around toxic fumes and chemicals. 
  • Maintain proper ventilation in the workplace, especially in areas where fumes can build up.
  • Keep the building ventilation systems clean and in good working condition to facilitate adequate air circulation. 
  • Have the building inspected at regular intervals to detect potential hazards in its structure. 

 

Fights Between Employees

Unfortunately, not everyone in your company will get along. Factors such as job competition, personality clashes, and derogatory remarks can lead to disagreements. If those disagreements lead to physical fights and someone gets hurt, there’s a good chance that a workers’ compensation claim will be filed.

Implement dispute resolution procedures to mitigate conflict. To prevent fights between employees: 

  • Train employees in diversity, cultural sensitivity, and harassment prevention.
  • Monitor employees for potential physical altercations. 

 

Exposure to Loud Noises

Employees who work in industrial factories, airports, or near landscaping equipment can experience short- or long-term hearing problems. Prolonged exposure to loud noises and ototoxic chemicals in the workplace can result in a condition called industrial deafness. An estimated 24% of hearing loss in the U.S. has been attributed to workplace exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

To prevent exposure to loud noises:

  • NIOSH estimates that 30 million U.S. employees are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause irreversible hearing loss and recommends that employees not be exposed to noise at a level that amounts to more than 85 decibels over 8 continuous hours. 
  • Make it mandatory for employees to use industrial earplugs or other noise-blocking devices while on the job.
  • Encourage employees to communicate with hand signals so that removal of ear protection is minimized. 
  • Use noise reduction strategies as much as possible. Place loud machinery away from employees to reduce overall noise exposure. 

 

Walking into Objects (or other people)

Busy, multi-tasking employees who regularly walk around the workplace while staring into their cell phones can collide with doors, windows, office machinery, or co-workers. It’s also common for employees to bump into glass doors, not realizing that the door is closed or to round corners with their hands full and view obstructed such that they collide with co-workers. Employees can suffer concussions, lacerations, and fall-related injuries as a result. 

To prevent employees from accidentally walking into objects:

  • Insist that employees use phones in designated areas of the building such as at desks or in lunchrooms. 
  • Place clings or stickers on glass doors so that employees can easily determine when they’re opened or closed. 
  • Encourage employees to not carry anything throughout the workplace that obstructs their view. 

 

security

 

Protect Employees from Outside Threats

 
Your employees expect you to provide a safe, non-threatening work environment. In addition to potential injury from “inside” incidents (machinery, hazardous materials, slip-and-falls), your safety program should address threats that come from outside. These include threats of violence from customers, disturbed ex-employees or current employees, and the general public. Emergencies that may require evacuation (fire, natural disaster, chemical leak) should also be addressed. If your business requires employees to go into clients’ homes or high-crime areas, what measures have you put in place to keep them safe? 

 

Risk Assessment

In order to create or improve your safety program so that it addresses outside threats to your employees’ safety, you need to identify risk areas. This can be accomplished by conducting a safety audit. You could also ask your insurance company to schedule a complimentary visit by a professional risk manager. This expert can tour your facility and help you identify and correct any hazards or security issues.

To identify potential threats, create a checklist that includes risks posed by both criminal assault and emergency situations. Here are some questions to include in your safety audit:
 

  • Criminal assault – Is the parking lot well lit? Is it attended or otherwise secure? Are bushes around the perimeter of your building well-trimmed to allow for an unobstructed view? Are there any other hiding places close to the building? Are all entrances to your building secure? Are security cameras strategically placed throughout your building? These are especially important considerations if you have employees who work late at night. Your business can be considered negligent if there is insufficient security or protection in the form of locks, guards, lights, or security cameras. 
  • Emergency situations – Are all building exits clearly marked and free of obstruction? Are employees trained on evacuation procedures and well-informed of escape routes? What procedures are in place for handling hazardous materials?

 

Preventive Measures

Once you’ve completed your safety audit and identified any deficiencies, be vigilant about eliminating those safety gaps. Your audit results can help you train your employees to be more aware of specific hazards associated with their jobs. You could also solicit feedback from employees to ensure that you’re covering all safety issues. 

Here are some measures to consider for protecting employees from outside threats:  

  1. If there are multiple ways to enter your building, designate specific doors for employees to use and insist that they report any suspicious activity around these entrances. Have employees access entry to the building via a scannable ID badge. Use a sign-in sheet for visitors and/or have them escorted to their destination by an employee. Install security cameras at entrances to monitor who’s entering the building. Security cameras are essential if your business has multiple buildings and employees often walk from one to the other at night. Parking garages and loading docks are high-risk areas and installing cameras in these areas is key to protecting your valuables and most importantly, your employees.
     
  2. Guns play a major role in workplace violence so you should institute a weapons policy that addresses possession of guns on company property and in company vehicles. 
  3. Ensure that employees are well-trained in all safety and security procedures. Contact your local police department’s crime prevention unit and ask that an officer conduct an education workshop for your employees. Post first aid information, building escape routes and emergency numbers in common areas. Regularly inspect equipment and company vehicles to ensure that they’re in good working condition. 
  4. For employees who work in the field (especially entering clients’ homes), provide cell phones for their safety. As an extra security measure, have them provide you or a designated co-worker with a daily schedule that gives the clients’ addresses and when they expect to arrive at and depart each location. 
  5.  In some states, you need to get employees’ written consent to monitor them via video/security cameras. Surveillance of workers may be restricted altogether in some states, so check state law to ensure you’re not hit with an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit 
  6. Teach your employees how to respond to threats of violence and how to handle irate or threatening individuals effectively. Help employees who are victims of stalking by offering to have a security officer escort them to and from work. Be open to working with the local police or aiding employees in obtaining restraining orders if necessary. Distribute a written policy that defines unacceptable behaviors and that provides an opportunity for dispute resolution between employees. Having a mediator on call could prove to be helpful.

 

Should You Hire Private Security?

When deciding if you need to hire private security guards, gather your area’s crime statistics from your local police department. This will give you an idea of whether your employees are at risk of violence. Also consider the following:
 

  • Do employees handle cash or other valuables?
  • Have layoffs recently occurred? Disgruntled laid-off employees may pose a threat.
  • Do employees often work alone late at night?
  • Are there frequent instances of customers becoming irate due to inadequate customer service performance?

If you’re leaning in the direction of hiring private security, weigh the pros and cons before finalizing your decision:
 
Pros:

  • Employees may feel more secure knowing that professional security guards are patrolling the premises.
  • The visibility of security guards may discourage potentially threatening individuals from attempting to enter your building.
  • Professional guards can help you identify and correct any breaches in security that you may have missed.

 
Cons:

  • It can be expensive to hire a professional security team. Get quotes from at least three security companies to compare costs and services provided. Ask your insurance company if hiring security guards (or taking other security measures such as installing cameras) will lower your premiums. If budget doesn’t permit hiring outside security personnel, consider creating an internal safety team.
  • If you proceed with hiring private security, be careful to not let your guard down. Encourage employees to remain vigilant about safety and security.
  • Uniformed guards may make customers/visitors uneasy and concerned about the potential for violence.  

 

emergency

 

What to Do If Your Employee is Injured

 
OSHA sets the standards that employers are expected to follow to ensure workplace safety. However, in spite of the best efforts, safety measures can fail resulting in an employee getting injured at work. It’s important that you quickly treat the injury and file a workers’ compensation claim.

The more prepared you are, the less likely it is that the injury will prove costly. By following the recommendations above for minimizing the potential for workplace injuries, you can respond quickly, thereby reducing the severity of the injury and how much it will cost your business. 
 

Immediately After the Injury

 
Immediately after the injury occurs, you should follow these steps:

  • Move the injured employee to a safe place – Move injured employees away from the accident scene if it’s dangerous and make other employees steer clear. 
  • Assess the injury – Determine the severity of the injury and what caused it. 
  • Treat the injury – Minor cuts, scrapes, and burns may only require first aid but serious injuries will require stabilizing the injured employee as he/she may not be aware of the severity of the injury. Immediately call emergency medical services to minimize the risk of further injury.
  • Gather and keep evidence – While the incident is fresh in your mind, jot down the pertinent details and solicit information from witnesses. Keep all evidence including equipment involved in the accident, pictures of the accident scene, etc. even if the employee says he/she feels fine. They could seek medical treatment at a later date. The evidence you gather will come in handy if a workers’ compensation claim is filed.

 

Filing Paperwork & Open Communication

If the injury is severe enough to require filing a workers’ compensation claim, work with the employee to file a claim with your insurance provider. To speed up the claims process and help the employee receive much-needed funds to pay for personal expenses, it’s in your best interest to maintain open communication with the employee, the doctor (if allowed), the claims adjuster, and your insurance agent.

This is another area where being prepared is beneficial. Consider creating documents in advance that outline the workers’ compensation process and return-to-work policies for your business. By providing these documents as part of the onboarding process for new employees, you build trust and can potentially lower claims costs. 
 

If the Injury Results in a Lawsuit

Ideally, filing a workers’ compensation claim will be enough to satisfy an injured employee but there’s always the chance that the employee will pursue litigation. If the employee files a lawsuit against you, still try to keep the lines of communication open. To speed up the process, share all relevant information and documentation with attorneys and claims adjusters. The longer the litigation process lasts, the more expensive it becomes as attorneys’ fees can add up quickly. Early out-of-court settlement of the case is an option that you may prefer over a more costly, protracted lawsuit.

By following the recommended preventive measures in this article, you should be able to reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits filed against you in the first place. 

 

Final Thoughts 

 
When you make an effort to keep your employees safe in the workplace, you create a win-win situation. You show that you care about them as human beings and not just as tools for making a profit. When employees feel safer and more secure at work, distractions that could hinder productivity are removed. 

 

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