7 ways to improve workplace safety
Have you heard this one: “WARNING – TO AVOID INJURY DON’T TELL ME HOW TO DO MY JOB?” There are lots of workplace jokes including those about “lost time accidents” but workplace safety is no joke!
Workplace safety is an important issue for all employers, and it is no joke. For example, it is also commonly joked about inconvenient safety regulations such as there being the “right” way to do things and the way things are actually done. All the inconvenient or restrictive safety regulation stem from actual events that have caused injury, death, or significant damage and loss. The steps that need to be taken to prevent an accident may seem to be inconvenient, but they are the results of a great deal of study, research, and obtaining results.
Here is an example, nobody pays much attention to candles, including birthday candles but did you know that fires caused by a lit candle account for as much as 18,900 structural fires in a single year. A significantly high amount of injuries results from candle fires each year not to mention even more than a few deaths. Approximately 677 people per year are injured each year as a result of candle fires. An additional 81 people lose their lives due to candle fires. No that is not a high number but that makes a difference to the families of those 81 people. In addition to injury and deaths, about $277 million in property damage results from those candle fires. We mention candle fires because it is a good example of something to which we pay little attention can cause a lot of loss through carelessness.
Below are 7 examples of small changes that could improve general workplace safety to reduce injury and financial loss.
A cause of workplace injuries can be attributed to people being in the wrong place. Individuals who may not be familiar with the workplace such as visitors may not be aware of all the hazards in specific areas. Workers and visitors may not be aware when moving from one location to another of specific hazards present. Often signage could be overlooked. There are four (4) basic factors for effective warning signs in a workplace are visibility, readability, noticeability, and legibility.
People who are often moving between areas may become complacent and stop noticing warning signs. This will contribute to increased workplace injuries so following proper sign guidelines is important.
- Make sure the message is short and simple. If it isn’t easy to read and understand, it will not be accurately comprehended by employees and increases the risk of injury.
- Place the sign or graphic in an area that is clear and accessible to an employee’s line of vision. For example, if someone has to bend over to see a warning message on a piece of equipment, the graphic should be repositioned.
- When using multiple signs in a small area, avoid excess visual clutter that can drown out and distract from important messages. Make sure signs and graphics that convey vital safety-related messages take precedence.
- Determine whether the signage in place complies with requirements put forth by OSHA.
- Reevaluate your sign and graphics program on a regular basis and make changes as needed to ensure effectiveness.
- Consider adding additional color or design elements for warning signs when additional information is added about a specific are or equipment to help reduce complacency and increase situational awareness.
We know an airport that created a database for their signage. All of their signs were listed in the database including what it said and the physical characteristics. Anytime it becomes apparent that a sign must be changed, the database is queried to obtain the location of all of the signs that must be changed. This ensures that no signs go unchanged.
Make safety briefings more relevant
Most people will become complacent with safety briefings rather quickly if there does not seem to be new information offered or they begin to perceive the activity as less risky due to the frequency of the activity. As experience increases a person may feel there is less risk of a workplace injury occurring.
Some airlines have given flight attendants license to be more creative when it comes to giving the pre-flight safety briefing and found that more people are engaged when the information is presented in a new or different way each time. Other airlines have followed this pattern by creating “comical” safety videos to keep passengers engaged.
Below are four (4) things to keep in mind about safety briefings.
One of the most important objectives for holding safety briefings is to simply raise awareness among workers about the potential dangers associated with their jobs. Holding safety briefings will allow company management to inform workers of any injuries that may have occurred on the job since the last safety briefing, thus allowing managers to show workers any of the real dangers that may be present while at work. This will, in turn, keep safety at the forefront of the employee’s mind, keeping him aware of potential dangers faced while on the job.
Another important reason to hold safety briefings is to create plans for improvement of safety procedures or pass those plans along to employees. Safety briefings can be the perfect time to gather all employees in one location and to discuss plans and procedures to avoid safety problems in the future. It can also be an opportunity for employees to voice any concerns regarding potential safety violations or problems that management needs to be aware. In short, the safety briefing should provide the perfect opportunity for improvement of the overall safety of the workplace through two-way dialog.
Aside from raising awareness and improving general safety procedures, the safety briefing should be used as an opportunity to identify specific problems that need to be addressed in the short term. Any overriding safety concerns should be addressed to allay the concerns of workers, management and any government officials that may be involved in ongoing safety problems. The briefing should also be used as an opportunity to head off any future concerns before they become a problem.
Safety briefings can also be used as a way to ensure that employees adhere to safety compliance by using approved safety procedures. The safety briefing can be kept short and to the point and can be used as an opportunity to have employees sign paperwork indicating their attendance and understanding of safety procedures. Doing so can help cover your legal obligation toward your employees’ health and safety and possibly avoid lawsuits later on if an accident happens in the workplace that is a result of the worker’s negligence, rather than company negligence.
Management must also meet privately with employees who are known to not follow prescribed safety protocols. Appropriate steps must be taken when an employee refuses to follow safety procedures. Remember that employees who do not follow the rules may not only bring harm to themselves but to others around them.
Identify drug use before it’s a problem
Addiction of any sort can cause problems in the workplace and problems for employees in their personal life which may spill over into the workplace. Addictions that could negatively impact workers’ safety and productivity include gambling and porn or sex addiction. Even stealing can become addicting. Any addiction can impair judgment and create an unsafe work environment but the most prevalent is substance abuse. The principles of assisting a workforce to prevent substance abuse can be used to provide help for a worker with any addiction. Include HR and legal counsel when steps need to be taken with an employee who is suffering from an addiction issue. Providing assistance to help an employee overcome an addiction creates a stronger workforce and safer environment.
Implementing Employee Education
Substance misuse education and prevention must be ongoing processes. In many cases, alcohol and other drug problems adversely affect employers, employees, and their families, even when the problems never come to the attention of employers.
Many employees do not seek help for their alcohol, prescription drug, or other drug problems because they are concerned that these problems may be negatively viewed. Employees might be more willing to seek the help they need when alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances are linked to health and wellness promotion efforts.
When designing prevention education efforts for employees, human resources staff should consider addressing the concerns of employees who are:
- Interested in a range of health promotion and wellness issues—such as stress management, pain management, weight management, nutrition, or exercise—as well as disease prevention
- Concerned family members who want to learn to effectively communicate with other family members about substance misuse, addiction, life skills, and decision-making
- Concerned about their own or their peers’ substance misuse
- Interested in being part of community-based prevention efforts and activities
- Interested in confidential, individual education on substance misuse or addiction and related issues
Give Positive Feedback
Most supervisors have the ability to set the day-to-day tone for the workplace. Highlighting positive behaviors that are healthy, safe, and productive—rather than managing through harsh criticism and intimidation—is a better motivator in making positive changes. Constructive, informal feedback helps to clarify expectations, correct misperceptions, and communicate standards. It also increases employee commitment.
Working outside skill level
Employers always want to get the most out of their employees and many workers enjoy the opportunity to learn new skills and gain valuable experience. However, this can lead to workplace injuries when workers are performing tasks outside their skill level without proper training or supervision.
As an example, consider what happens in the world of recreational and industrial SCUBA diving. When divers are trained, they are frequently cautioned to stay within their training. Underwater activities can be enchanting and the allure of exploration can draw divers into experimenting with activities they are not trained to perform and have no real understanding of the hazards associated with that activity.
On-the-job training is important for the progression of a worker’s skills and as is the case with diving the allure of working with new equipment can be enticing. But progressing too quickly without the proper safety training and understanding of inherent hazards jeopardizes the safety of workers and does not help workers progress long term.
Knowing who enters and is in the workplace
The most important way to improve workplace safety is knowing who is in the workplace. It’s generally accepted that controlling access to the workplace is necessary in order to maintain a safe work environment. It is important to ensure that people coming in have permission to be there. This can include employees, visitors, vendors, contractors, and etc.
Properly vetting the workforce and visitors is essential to adequately assess risk to the safety of workers. Individuals with permanent or recuring access permission such as employees and contractors should be more thoroughly vetted against public records that would indicate a higher risk factor for these individuals. In some cases, individuals would need to be vetted against criminal history databases to ensure they pose no threat to the workplace or sensitive or hazardous materials. These individuals then receive credentials such as access control badges which will allow them to enter the areas for which they have been approved. Periodically the individuals should be re-vetted to ensure nothing in the public records or criminal history has changed indicating an increased level of risk.
Persons with limited and temporary access such as visitors and vendors should also be vetted and credentialed. Such access levels should be commensurate with the permission levels that they have been granted. Permission levels could allow them unrestricted access to specific areas, or the person may be required to be escorted. The permission and escort levels should be developed to fit local requirements…and then they need to be enforced. An effective visitor management process incorporates a visitor management system that can rapidly vet visitors and maintain an accurate record of all visits including, but not limited to dates, times, who sponsored the visit, and the reason for the visit.
Maintaining an accurate record of who is in a facility not only helps to reduce risk but in the event of some sort of disaster, it is imperative to have accurate records of each individual onsite for use by first responders.
Certain types of facilities are classified as critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure can be defined as structures, portions of structures, or assets that are essential to the functioning of society and the economy. This could be government buildings, utilities, or hospitals. There is an increased need for vetting and visitor management systems for critical infrastructure. Click HERE for more information about vetting capabilities from Visitor Vetting and Management.
The simplest way to improve workplace safety is to improve physical barriers. This not only protects property from unwanted persons but also protects a person from unknown hazards. The physical barrier might be a perimeter fence or might be a hazardous materials cabinet. There are new technologies available that allow facilities to use “smart” versions of traditional barriers like turnstiles.
The covid-19 pandemic has created new concerns about workplace safety with a need to also provide methods of protecting workers’ health. Using “smarter” physical barriers such as turnstiles can help reduce the spread of illness in a workplace by doing automatic temperature and mask checks on each person entering the workplace. This is one of the innovations available through a company called Smarter Security. Find out more about how to reduce workplace illness HERE.