National Safety Month: Assess and Act

There are benefits in Monthly Awareness topics – building them into your organization’s calendar and culture, or your own personal plan for the month, ensures that you address the topics at least once a year. For example, last month we focused on Health and Wellness. This month, we focus on a related topic: workplace safety.

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A Safety Assessment Checklist

The first step in developing or revising your personal or organizational safety plan is assessment. Here are several areas that you should consider – either as a leader of others, or for your own safety and well-being.

Musculoskeletal Disorders – These include repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel, or a sore back or shoulders from your desk position or ongoing stress. Consider your workplace set-up, and what steps you might take in this area. This could include asking for or offering stand-up desks or more comfortable chairs – while they initially sound expensive, the money saved through increased focus and lower fatigue balances the investment.

Workplace Impairment – Mental health conditions are often not discussed in the workplace but are challenges for many people. You, or others in your workplace, may try to cope with alcohol or drugs, causing impairment and safety concerns in the workplace. Stay aware of your own mental health and be sensitive to changes in others. If you re concerned for someone’s welfare, express your concern – either to the person directly or to a supervisor or close colleague. While this can feel invasive and awkward, showing you care can make a difference.

Also, if Happy Hour is an event for your office, but sure to support those who choose not to attend or drink alcohol – never push a drink on someone, even in the most joking of ways. For those who are drinking, if you have any concerns at all, it is always OK to implement a safety plan to be sure they are safe going home.

Injury Prevention – “Slip, Trips and Falls” continue to be a common workplace safety topic, because clumsiness and cords do not go well together. Stay attentive to wandering power strips, boxes in the hallway, unmonitored microwaves and hotplates and other obstacles that can lead to accidents. If you work at home, try to keep your workspace clear of the hustle and bustle of life – like children’s toys on the floor that can lead you to trip while on a call. In the office, it is good to periodically assess repairs that may be needed – that broken handicapped access button, sharp desk corner or dark stairway needs your attention!

COVID-19 and Other Infectious Diseases – We now live in a world where many people feel the need to say “it’s not COVID” every time they cough! Many people no longer wear masks every day, but it is good to ask what safety protocols make sense to continue, even when risks feel somewhat lower than they may have felt in the past. Washing hands, avoiding large crowds, reconsidering office hugs and staying home when sick are actions to take yourself, and to respect when others take too. Also, monitor your culture to be sure that people who choose to wear masks are not undermined or made fun of for doing so – just like with Happy Hour, everyone’s choices should be respected.

Safe Driving Practices – Modern-day vehicles do a wonderful job of integrating the phone with your dashboard – and – talking and driving still creates distractions that draw your attention from the road. Try to avoid taking work calls from the road and discourage others from doing it as well. If you must engage in the call, use hands-free technology, or simply pull over for a bit, particularly for intense topics.

General Wellness – Sleep, Nutrition. Some may point out that Heath and Wellness was last month’s topic, but the relationship between wellness and safety is too critical to leave this item out. When we are rested and managing stress effectively, we are better able to stay in the present moment and be aware of our surroundings. This has a direct link to our ability to maintain a safe environment and prevent accidents. A workplace filled with stress is also a workplace that is less safe – so attending to workplace wellness also supports workplace safety.

Workplace Violence – While we do not like to think about it, these are tough times for many people and workplace violence is a risk that managers and teams need to consider. It is important to understand security practices in your office and to take precautions when someone leaves on negative terms. This could include providing photos of discharged employees to the front desk, always being sure that badges and access codes are deactivated or changed when a risk is known and training key staff on responding to workplace violence if it occurs.

Some workplaces have started to engage in Active Shooter Drills – in addition to other types of safety drills – consider the drills that make the most sense for you and your workplace. If it is not your role to define these, or your workplace does not engage in them, then at a minimum, assess your own personal plan for engaging in an unexpected emergency.

Weather – This year has already seen fires and floods, unexpected snowstorms and early heat waves. In considering workplace safety for yourself and others, consider what weather or natural events are most likely to impact your office and the offices of teleworkers. For the most common types of events, develop contingency plans for “work at home” triggers, evacuations and procedures for checking in during and after an event.

Actions for a Safer Workplace and Home

Based on the assessment above, here is a summary of action steps you can take this month or anytime of the year for a safer workplace or home:

• Declutter your workplace! Focus on trip hazards and things that cause your space to be less functional than it could be.
• Check the lighting and electrical outlet situation in your workspace – move or get new lighting if necessary and relocate cords to be out of the way if they have drifted over time.
• Ask for a standing desk or new chair if you need it.
• Keep cleaning supplies and personal care products on hand at the office – disinfectant wipes, soap, paper towels and tissues can all come in handy.
• Be honest with yourself about your general level of health and wellness and take steps to better manage your physical and mental heath where needed.
• Take a walk to clear your head and better manage stress through the day.
• Share your emergency contacts and any medical conditions you have with your supervisor or close colleague and invite them to do the same.
• Show you care – regularly give words of encouragement to others, and practice self-appreciation to support your mental health.
• Keep your cell phone mostly charged, and your gas tank more than half full.
• Keep a small amount of cash handy for a cab ride or other emergency expenses if power is out and credit cards are not working. Even having a $20 bill stored behind your cell phone cover could be a huge help.
• Do not text while driving – period!
• Minimize time on the phone in the car – even when hands-free.
• Keep printed or written lists of close contacts in case the network or power are lost.
• Maintain an emergency kit in your car with water, some non-perishable snacks, blanket, flashlight and first aid kit. A printed road map is not a bad idea when traveling.
• Stand in your home or office and ask, “If I had 5 minutes to leave, what would I grab and where would I go?” Really think through your actions in this scenario – then repeat using 15 minutes and 1 hour as the benchmarks. Just going through this mental exercise will make you better prepared for the unthinkable.

Next Steps – Educational Resources

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website has many resources to help in workplace safety planning. Examples of resources include fact sheets, videos and training modules. All of these are public materials, so they can be integrated into your internal outreach and educational efforts during Workplace Safety Month and beyond.

The OSHA website has a searchable index of safety topics is available – focusing on different topics and different industries. General resources for all industries can also help organizations meet recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Pryor also has several classroom and self-serve training options in the OSHA and Workplace Safety category. These include 30-hour OSHA-focused safety courses, Human Resource compliance topics and videos for managers wishing to develop a workplace safety culture. Just search the Pryor website for “OSHA and Workplace Safety” and the “Workplace Safety Library.” Pryor’s Business Blog also has a full category of OSHA and Workplace Safety articles.

COVID-19 has been at the center of workplace safety efforts for the last couple of years – National Safety Month offers a good opportunity to zoom out and look at the broader safety needs of the organization.

Workplace Safety Month is a good opportunity to assess and act – you may never know what risks were avoided by doing so. Be careful out there!

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