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What Businesses Can Do to Improve Occupational Safety
March 19, 2019
Workplace accidents can occur at any place and at any time. According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly three million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported in 2017. While the frequency and number of these workplace-related injuries are on the decline, employers still face substantial risks in their operations. Injuries occurring in the workplace account for billions of dollars in losses, including financial losses as well as losses in productivity. Occupational insurance has long been a part of the risk management protocol, but much more is needed to eliminate the sources of injury. In this guide, we will illustrate some of the steps businesses can take to improve occupational safety, reducing injury rates and their corresponding financial impacts.
Identifying the Root Causes of Workplace Injuries
The first step in minimizing workplace injuries and improving occupational safety begins with changing mindsets from symptoms to root causes. In the typical workplace, an injury may occur and steps may be taken to correct the damage and get the injured employee the care he or she needs (the symptoms) without ever identifying what led to the injury in the first place – in other words, the root cause. Failure to identify root causes behind workplace-related injuries can lead to skyrocketing insurance costs, not to mention the potential for another injury even more severe than the first.
To change the mindset, it is important to look at the heart of an injury or property damage incident and focus not on what happened, but why it happened. Many factors go into an accident investigation, and may include:
- Training levels or lack of training in the individuals affected by the incident.
- Faulty equipment that had not been taken out of service.
- Stress and workload levels in affected employees.
- Maintenance issues, such as preventative maintenance steps being skipped or overlooked.
- Failures in workplace safety standards.
Management teams must ensure that there are adequate resources available to investigate any accident and to take the steps needed to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Safety Program Integration
Too many companies approach workplace safety as a piecemeal operation, with different protocols for different departments and situations. This is a recipe for disaster, according to occupational health and safety industry analysts. Standalone safety programs are simply insufficient; all elements of a company’s safety programs must be integrated into one system. While it is true that different parts of a given operation may have different risks associated with them, the integrated safety plan provides a roadmap for preventing accidents regardless of the unique circumstances found in a typical workplace. Safety analysts also suggest that companies develop safety systems that prevent problems rather than simply solving them; this is a reflection of the changing mindset between symptoms and root causes discussed above.
Developing a Workplace Safety Manual
At the core of an integrated workplace safety plan is often a safety manual. These workplace safety manuals are designed to help stakeholders and employees understand what is expected of them should an injury or workplace death occur. Workplace safety manuals may be required by regulations, and serve to improve regulatory compliance along with certain legal protections. Occupational insurance providers often provide templates for employers to develop their own manuals, and here it is critical that each company tailor it to the specific needs, concerns, and dynamics of their own workplaces.
A comprehensive workplace safety manual should include:
- Policies on general health and safety, including descriptive information for all stakeholders.
- Company rules and standards, which may include provisions for personal protective equipment, accident reporting mechanisms, and maintenance protocols.
- Job safety procedures, which are step-by-step guides to perform certain tasks or to use certain potentially hazardous equipment.
- Hazard assessments, which are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA regulations require employers to conduct thorough and regular workplace safety inspections to identify potential risks and the protective measures employees may need to complete their tasks.
- Training standards – including schedules and requirements for new employee safety training as well as follow-up training for established employees.
- Workplace incident reporting guidelines, including who to report to, when to report an incident, and how the reporting/data gathering should be handled.
- Emergency preparedness details so that all employees know what is expected of them and what roles they must take if an emergency situation (catastrophic fire or explosion, floods, etc.) occurs.
There are many additional steps an employer may take to ensure a safe, productive workplace. Occupation insurance is only one part of a risk management strategy, and employers are wise to review insurance coverages on a regular basis. With a little insight and a commitment to creating a safe workplace, employers can reduce the lost productivity and expenses associated with workplace injuries. ◼
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