The workplace is a dynamic environment that requires individuals to be both vigilant and proactive to protect themselves and others. Getting creative in how we address workplace safety can also be a way to build employee engagement. It can help your organization meet requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that sets and enforces safety and health standards and ensures safe working conditions.
12 Common Workplace Safety Risks
While it can be unpleasant to think about, a good first step to engaging in workplace safety is thinking about all the ways in which a workplace can be unsafe. These vary by industry and profession, but here is a starting list of 12 common risks:
- Slips, trips and falls: These can occur due to wet or slippery floors, uneven surfaces, cluttered walkways or inadequate lighting.
- Strains and sprains from lifting heavy objects: This happens when employees lift or move heavy objects without proper training or equipment.
- Cuts and lacerations from sharp objects: This can occur when employees use sharp tools or machinery without proper safety measures.
- Burns from hot surfaces or chemicals: This happens when employees work with hot surfaces or chemicals without proper protective gear or training.
- Electrical shocks: This occurs when employees work with electrical equipment or wiring without proper training or safety measures.
- Exposure to harmful substances or fumes: This happens when employees work with hazardous chemicals or substances without proper ventilation or protective gear, like protective gear such as goggles, lab coats and gloves.
- Noise: In manufacturing or other production environments, excessive or ongoing noise can seriously compromise hearing. Hearing protection is essential for long-term health in these environments.
- Repetitive motion injuries: This can occur when employees perform the same motion repeatedly, such as typing or using a mouse, without proper ergonomic equipment or training.
- Machinery accidents: This happens when employees operate machinery without proper training or safety measures.
- Vehicle accidents: This can occur when employees drive company vehicles or operate heavy equipment without proper training or safety measures.
- Violence or assault from coworkers or customers: This can happen when employees are subjected to physical or verbal abuse from coworkers or customers.
- Severe weather: More and more workplaces are experiencing unsafe conditions due to severe weather, such as tornados, flooding or excessive heat or drought. These can particularly impact outdoor workplaces, like in the construction or agricultural industries.
Creative Approaches to Engage Employees in Safety
Here are some ideas for engaging employees in safety-related topics, while also improving morale.
- Set up a “Family Feud” style game, where you poll people in advance about what they believe the top 5 risks in the workplace are, and the top 5 practices that could be implemented to protect against them. Then, have teams compete to see if they can guess what the top five responses were for each.
- For operations-based workplaces or plants, consider arranging a “Day in the Life” tour, focusing on different employees and their jobs, as well as the safety practices they have in place. This is a great way to expose employees to different functions of each other’s work, and could become part of your onboarding or orientation processes. This could also take the form of “Workplace Walks,” where teams tour the entire workplace, identifying possible safety problems as they complete the tour – during the debrief, teams share their observations and then make action plans.
- Build safety into your awards program, by inviting and providing a forum for employees to celebrate those who take actions to make the workplace safer – or who mitigate risk by making some type of improvement.
- Track and celebrate safe days. When it comes to safety, acknowledge each week or month that passes without a workplace incident. When nothing has happened, it is a good news story to share. Provide examples of the actions people are taking to engage in workplace safety – or ask people to share examples in staff meetings, to reinforce positive behaviors.
- Consider conducting a contest where employees develop safety slogans that also echo the organization’s mission or purpose. These can be both serious and fun – as different people respond to different motivators. The goal is to keep safety and mission inter-connected, and top of mind.
The degree of emphasis on these activities should vary based on the number and intensity of the risk. A complex food processing plant will face very different safety challenges than an accounting office! For higher-risk environments, an increased emphasis on engaging activities – such as safety skits, employee videos and other types of contests may be most relevant.
Reminders for Supervisors and Managers: OSHA Matters
As a supervisor or manager, OSHA needs to matter to you for several reasons:
- Legal Compliance: OSHA regulations are legally binding, and supervisors are responsible for making sure the workplace is compliant with these regulations. Failure to comply with OSHA standards can result in fines, penalties and legal action.
- Protecting Your Team: OSHA regulations are designed to protect employees from workplace hazards and ensure their safety. As a supervisor, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are working in a safe environment and that they are trained to recognize and avoid potential hazards.
- Reputation: A workplace that prioritizes safety and health is more likely to attract and retain employees, and maintain a positive reputation in the community. Conversely, a workplace with a poor safety record can damage the company’s reputation and lead to negative publicity.
- Productivity: Workplace injuries and illnesses can result in lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher healthcare costs. By prioritizing safety and health, supervisors can help prevent these issues and maintain a productive workforce.
In summary, OSHA matters to a supervisor because it is your responsibility to ensure legal compliance, prioritize employee safety, maintain a positive reputation, and promote productivity in the workplace.
Practical Steps to Make Safety Visible
Here is a checklist of ways managers and supervisors can show both their employees – and OSHA inspectors – that they take worker safety and health seriously.
- Have a safety plan and stick to it: Having a safety plan, and even a safety committee to maintain and implement it, institutionalizes and communicates your commitment to safety. It also keeps you focused and organized over time.
- Conduct regular safety training: Regular safety training sessions help employees understand the potential hazards in the workplace and how to avoid them. Honestly assess risk and give practical examples.
- Implement and enforce safety protocols: Establish safety protocols and procedures for all tasks and ensure that employees follow them.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE): Provide employees with the necessary PPE, such as gloves, safety glasses and hard hats, to protect them from potential hazards.
- Regularly inspect equipment: Regularly inspect all equipment and machinery to ensure that they are in good working condition and do not pose any safety risks.
- Keep the workplace clean and organized: A clean and uncluttered workplace helps prevent accidents and injuries. This action also supports the general needs of people with disabilities, who may need more room to get around. Paper boxes in the middle of the floor are no one’s friends.
- Encourage reporting of safety concerns and investigate incidences: Encourage employees to report any safety concerns or hazards they observe in the workplace. If something happens, follow-up to investigate and mitigate the root cause of the problem.
- Conduct regular safety audits and take corrective actions: Conduct regular safety audits to identify potential hazards and implement corrective actions where needed. This may mean updating the safety plan to integrate any learning from the audit.
- Provide ergonomic workstations: Provide ergonomic workstations to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders or hand or back injuries. Facilitate home workstation assessments to do the same for remote workers.
- Clearly identify roles: Effectively implementing OSHA requirements requires specific people to have specific roles and responsibilities for safety. Translate rules into role-appropriate actions that specific people take to meet personal performance goals.
- Hold people accountable for safety: It’s OK to evaluate staff based on their adherence to safety practices. When everyone is held accountable, safety follows.
To further explore these topics and others, Pryor Learning offers several training options in the category of Workplace Safety and OSHA, including OSHA’s formal Outreach Training Program (5-days), OSHA General Training, a Safety Toolbox Series, Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) Training and specialized sessions in Worker Compensation, Medical OSHA Compliance and Recordkeeping and Retention.