A total of 4,836 men and women were killed while on the job in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Nearly 5,000 fatalities occurred, even though safety standards in America are federally regulated. With such great risk in the workplace, business owners and leaders can do more to ensure the well-being of their employees. Don’t wait until someone gets injured on your work site to take action. Use this guide to take proactive measures for ensuring that workers are safe and liabilities are reduced.
Perform Thorough Hazard Assessments
A workplace hazard assessment involves imagining that Murphy’s Law is the only law of the land in the work setting: imagine that anything that could go wrong, will go wrong. It is an exercise in hypothetical cause and effect with careful consideration of all the constants and variables within your specific work environment.
To develop plausible hazard scenarios, OSHA recommends that employers contemplate their businesses and ask the following questions: What is it that could go wrong? What would the consequences be if it did go wrong? How could this hazard issue arise? What factors would contribute to it? How likely is this hazard issue to occur? Naturally, the answers to these questions depend upon the nature of the business. A machine shop will have vastly different hazards than a call center, so it is imperative that the individual or group compiling the hazard analysis have a deep understanding of daily business operations.
After developing a rough idea of the general hazards of the trade, employers should then create as many specific likely hazard scenarios as possible by including the following five elements:
• Environment: where within the facility, business or office that the hazard would occur
• Exposure: who and/or what the hazard would happen to
• Trigger: the catalyst of the hazard
• Consequence: the outcomes that would occur if the hazard did happen
• Contributing factors: any other aspects that might cause, expedite or intensify the potential hazard
With potential safety risks identified, those risks can then be linked to specific tasks, and hazard controls for those tasks can be developed. Once controls to prevent those hazards are in place, it is up to you to make sure your employees are informed and trained on the safety procedures.
To be a business owner or leader is to be the epitome of “responsible.” You are responsible in that you meet deadlines, increase production, create schedules and use your time wisely. You are also responsible for the well-being of your staff while they are at work and you are responsible for the legal obligations that come with being responsible for your staff’s well-being, both physically and, to an extent, mentally.
Physical Safety – Regarding your responsibility for employee physical safety, you can reduce liability by keeping current of the issues within your business industry and anticipating your legal needs. For example, if you work in an industry that handles asbestos, consult with a mesothelioma lawyer who can help you foresee what could go wrong and assist you in meeting regulatory requirements.
Mental Safety – Harassment and discrimination are sadly the most common threats to employee mental and emotional safety in the workplace. To reduce risk and liability, regularly review harassment policy and procedures. Is the policy written? Does it list all forms of discrimination and harassment? Is that list comprehensive? A solid discrimination and harassment policy should, at a minimum, include:
• a description of prohibited conduct
• a statement declaring the illegality of harassment
• a clear explanation of the complaint process
• a clearly indicated process of communication which allows the plaintiff to bypass an alleged harassing supervisor
• the availability of a quick and unbiased investigation
• guarantees that employees will not experience retaliation for making accurate complaints or for cooperation in harassment investigations
Employers should also annually remind employees of the discrimination and harassment policy and reporting procedure. A current policy is an invaluable defense in responding to discrimination and harassment lawsuits.
All of the policies, procedures and safety assessments in the world mean nothing if your employees are unaware of how to follow them, so safety and procedural training is probably the most important tool you have as an owner or operator in maintaining the safety of your staff and in limiting liability. According to the Insurance Information Institute, two areas of concern that apply to the majority of businesses are Employment Practices Liability and Slip and Fall Accidents.
• Employment Practices Liability training has to do with civil rights compliance and is recommended specifically for managers though staff can benefit as well. Low-cost materials are available through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for small businesses.
• Slip and Fall Accidents can befall any business that has floors and both employees and customers can be involved in these incidents. Training employees on how to eliminate slip and fall risks, like maintaining adequate lighting, performing general housekeeping tasks and properly cleaning up spills, is important in preventing incidents. Additionally, have a clear procedure in place in the event that someone one does slip and fall, and incorporate these instructions into the new hire training.
In trade businesses, to ensure your workers are in compliance with federal regulations specific to your industry, require each new hire to undergo a thorough training process. If you are unsure of where to begin, the OSHA website offers a host of training videos on topics ranging from carbon monoxide to work surface hazards. Refresher training sessions should be provided to continuing employees periodically or as federal regulations change.
As a business owner, operator or leader, you shoulder many responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, but none are as important as the safety of your employees. By performing concise hazard assessments, preemptive consideration of liability and through extensive staff training, you ensure that you keep your employees safe and reduce the risk of liability claims within your business.