Feeling safe at work is essential for any employee’s well-being, and as an employer, you have an obligation to ensure workplace health and safety. It is not only a moral responsibility, but a legal one. This means learning what it is to run a safe workplace, with our workplace safety tips to guide you.
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5.5. Create documentation
What is workplace safety?
Workplace safety is a broad term that covers several different aspects of safety at work, from preventing accidents to environmental health and safety, since the workplace is also a broad concept. Nonetheless, there are many general guidelines you can follow that help ensure occupational health and safety for all.
Workplace safety is sometimes called office safety, and it is the task of creating an atmosphere in which employees feel looked-after and can thrive. Safe working conditions are a legal and moral right of every single employee. No matter the size, industry or status of your organization, you cannot ignore safety at work, and need to prioritize it if you want your business to succeed.
Developing strategies to promote a safer work environment helps employers fulfill not only their legal obligations, but also improves the quality of work being done.
What are the benefits of workplace safety?
Safety is a priority in any situation, and the workplace is no exception. On average, people will spend 90.000 hours of their lifetime at work, which amounts to approximately a full third of their life. It is therefore essential that you as the employer make sure your work environment is as safe as it can be.
According to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2,7 million workplace injuries in 2020, 4.764 of which were fatal, in the United States alone. With accidents occurring in such numbers, it’s clear that better workplace safety protocols are needed.
Workplace safety is not only about your employees. You also benefit from instituting safe working conditions. A secure working environment attracts more staff, avoids high incident costs, and saves time and resources.
Especially in light of COVID-19, paying attention to environmental safety can help prevent the spread of diseases both in and outside the office.
Safety at work is a crucial employer duty, but it is not only employers who are responsible. While you are required to set appropriate frameworks into place and provide appropriate training, equipment, and resources, your employees also need to be sure they act responsibly.
By prioritizing workplace safety, employees and employers alike can work together to:
- Save lives
Of the 2,7 million work injuries in the U.S. in 2020, 4.764 proved to be fatal, although these numbers have decreased significantly over the course of a year. Thus, setting better standards and increasing safety measures saves lives.
- Improve workplace attractiveness & improve reputation
A workplace that is committed to office safety and employee health automatically becomes a more attractive place for current staff and new hires to work. It reflects a culture where management focuses on their employees’ needs by prioritizing continuous improvement in every area.
- Save money
Following workplace safety laws means avoiding costly safety claims and penalties. In the event accidents do happen, it is best to make sure you treat your workers and their health with respect and do as much as you can to protect them.
- Increase productivity
Occupational health and safety leads to increased productivity, because there will be fewer injuries halting production. Healthy and cared-for workers are also more motivated to perform their work, resulting in fewer illness-related work absences.
- Protect equipment
Proper workplace safety not only protects yourself and your employees from harm, but improves the shelf life of your equipment. Adhering to safety guidelines and following instructions means treating workplace equipment better, reducing the chance that it fails.
What are workplace safety hazards?
When hearing the term “workplace hazards”, it’s common to assume that accident prevention is the number one priority. Avoiding incidents like falls or trips may come to mind, as well as handling equipment properly. Though it is of course vital to address these things, workplace safety is much broader.
For example indoor air quality in an office setting could pose a workplace hazard. Factors threatening worker health and safety range from the physical to the environmental to the psychological. It’s crucial that you’re aware how wide-ranging workplace hazards can be.
Workplace hazards are commonly grouped into 6 different sources of danger that need to be addressed:
- Safety hazards
Safety hazards generally involve typical accidents associated with workplace injuries, such as trip hazards.
This includes accidents involving
- Falls due to unattended ladders or unsecured scaffolding
- Unguarded machinery or inappropriate use of machinery
- Electrical hazards due to improper wiring or unsecured cords
- Slips, trips and falls due to leakages, uncovered electrical cords or ice
- Physical hazards
Physical hazards are a matter of environmental safety; they are situations in which an employee is exposed to conditions that injure their body, such as:
- Biological hazards
Where physical hazards can harm the body without touching it, biological hazards are caused by contact with living organisms. Working with other people, animals or infectious diseases poses a risk to employees working in healthcare or laboratories, and even in educational institutions such as schools, kindergartens, or daycares.
Exposure to bacteria, bodily fluids, various plant matter, droppings, or an animal/insect bite can be extremely harmful and seriously risky.
- Chemical hazards
Chemical hazards threaten anyone working with cleaning agents, flammable liquids, or pesticides. Said chemicals can cause rashes, irritation, or even breathing problems.
- Ergonomic hazards
While not commonly considered, ergonomic hazards are a serious matter that affect office workers but can also be a concern for deskless workers who spend a lot of time maintaining one position. In order to avoid ergonomic injuries and musculoskeletal disorders, it is important to consider:
- The size and brightness of computer screens
- Desk sizes
- Office seating
- Office lighting
- Psychological hazards
According to data by the Mental Health Foundation 14,7% of people experience mental health issues in the workplace. These can often result in severe illnesses, burnout, and other psychological issues. Causes for mental stress include:
- Lack of flexibility
- A hostile work environment
- Sexual harassment
Many factors can negatively influence the psyche, especially in the workplace. This is why it’s important to offer counseling, support and make sure that workers are being taken seriously with their concerns.
What are the most common workplace safety hazards?
Though there are many types of hazards that can threaten the health and safety of employees in the workplace, some hazards are more common than others. You should pay particular attention to these in order to avoid them.
OSHA lists the most frequently cited hazards each year to give employer insights and recommendations for actions to take. In 2021, the 10 most recognized hazards were:
- Falls during construction work, due to unprotected side edges, structurally inadequate surfaces, lack of guardrails, safety nets or other protective systems, unattended holes and other factors.
- Lack of fall training for employees who might be exposed to such hazards.
- Failure to provide respiratory protection or personal protective equipment (PPE) for work involving dust, harmful fumes, smokes, sprays or vapors.
- Poor hazard communication including information given to employees and employers.
- Inadequate or unsupportive scaffolding.
- Failing to control hazardous energy in the lockout-tagout industry.
- No eye and face protection during construction work to keep employees safe from flying particles, liquids, vapors or radiation.
- Lack of proper training and information regarding industrial trucks, their maintenance, protection, or use.
- Improper machine guarding, leading to danger from rotating parts, flying debris, or sparks.
Anticipating a hazard means you’re halfway to avoiding it, so it’s important to learn what most commonly poses threats in the workplace. This way, you can also account for less common hazards and make sure you are fully prepared to protect your employees.
Identify safety hazards In 5 steps
When assessing your workplace for hazards and other things that impede workplace safety, there are five steps you should follow.
Collect existing data
The best way to begin to identify safety hazards is to have as much data on workplace safety hazards as possible. Refer to institutions like OSHA or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as manuals, existing trainings, and specific union laws, when gathering information.
Conduct an inspection
It’s important to perform inspections in the workplace in order to make sure all rules and regulations are being followed. Repeat these inspections regularly, since workplaces change and evolve, especially when new workers or equipment are introduced.
Communicate with your team
Create an atmosphere of open communication and regularly interview your team members – workers and managers alike – in order to fully understand their working environment. Have they identified hazards that you overlooked? Can they recommend optimizing any specific processes for greater safety? Whatever their suggestion, your workers are valuable sources, as they know more about everyday procedures. Take their advice and concerns seriously.
Whether an accident has already occurred or it was only a near-miss event, it’s always important to investigate the potential causes of an issue. If workers were, for example, not following procedures, you need to decide whether they need more training and guidance or should be let go. Investigations are especially important after any occurrences that left workers injured.
Once you’ve gathered information on the hazards in your workplace, draw up a hazard map. Hazard mapping helps you map hazards to specific workstations and serves as a workplace and office safety guide. OSHA recommends involving workers when creating these maps.
How do you address workplace safety hazards?
Awareness of hazards is the key to effective occupational safety, but it’s important to remember not every workplace accident can be prevented. Your job is to minimize risks, appoint safety officers, and provide sufficient training to employees.
Some workplace safety tips that will help you address concerns include:
- Conduct regular workplace risk assessments
- Assess and evaluate all hazards
- Review your findings and address issues appropriately by providing training, better PPE or changing your procedures
Who regulates workplace safety?
Office safety is not something that is left for you to decide on your own. Workers’ rights are heavily guarded and protected by laws and regulations that are enforced and verified by regulatory bodies both national and international.
Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA)
One of the most well-known workplace safety agencies is OSHA, A US-based organization that creates and enforces standards for workplace health and safety. Its European counterpart is EU-OSHA, which regulates occupational safety and health for office employees and deskless workers.
International Labor Organization (ILO)
The International Labor Organization, which is endorsed by the United Nations and made up of 187 member states, promotes workplace safety as an internationally recognised human right.
Founded in 1919, the agency aims to set international labor standards to protect employees and people across the globe. ILO’s goals, among others, include
- the abolition of child labour,
- eliminating forced labour,
- promoting equality.
Regulating office health and safety in your workplace is simple with a digital inspection app like Lumiform. Not only will you be able to report and/or inspect incidents in real time, but the data you collect is saved automatically, making it easy to identify hazards in your workplace.
Making good use of a workplace safety checklist allows you to assess environmental safety, equipment status, and many other things that contribute to unsafe conditions. Once you understand the problem, you can plan your solution.