Why Safety Needs to be a Company Priority

Healthy workers are happier workers.

When a business demonstrates to their employees that they care about each person's individual health and wellbeing, it results in increased morale and productivity. But when a business doesn't emphasize safety, the impacts of a work related accident can be felt for years.

A colleague of mine has a desk job that he enjoys, but Lou once had a lucrative job as a forklift driver at a lettuce processing plant. The job was fast paced, and emphasized high productivity and long hours at the expense of safety as forklifts buzzed from room to room at high speed with full loads on their pallets.

And one day as he was loading his pallet, another forklift driver drove blindly from one room to the other at high speed with a pallet obscuring his vision so he had to lean to one side to see where he was going.

The driver didn't see Lou, and Lou didn't have a chance. And if Lou had seen the driver he probably wouldn't have been able get out of the way in time. Lou wasn't just hit; he was dragged for 20 feet before the load tumbled on top of him. He broke his foot but also damaged two vertebrae in his back, was declared 32 percent disabled and had to undergo physical therapy for a year and a half.

This wasn't an accident; it was avoidable if the company had required the drivers to follow established forklift safety regulations and not pushed expectations that required breakneck speeds.

Safety regulations require drivers to travel with the load behind them if it obstructs forward view, and drivers need to slow down and sound their horn where visibility is obstructed.

Whatever type of business you operate or manage, these tips will help get you started fostering a safety-focused workplace:

1. Talk About Safety

    From the first day of an employee's tenure at your company, let them know that their health and safety is important to you. Ask them to speak up when a problem arises, whether it's them noticing a potential hazard around the worksite or a persistent pain that develops in their wrist or elbow from long hours at the desk. There is a fix or prevention for nearly everything, and creative understanding and flexibility is the best way to deal with a diverse staff, each with their own individual needs.

2. Bring Your Safety Manual to Life

    At most businesses, the safety manual is a huge document created to meet legal requirements, and few employees ever read through it. Although the legal language within them is necessary, you should also break it into layman's terms for employees. These manuals often include a company's plan for dealing with an emergency, something everyone on site should be prepared for at any time, without having to thumb through their manual for the correct page.

3. Make Training Fun

    Whether you incorporate safety training as a component of regular meetings or schedule independent sessions, make a point to regularly focus on reaction plans and employee health. Safety training one month could include the staff practicing an evacuation plan in the case of a fire or earthquake. The next month might include bringing in an expert to demonstrate stretches that desk-based workers can use to prevent repetitive motion injuries and pain to their wrists, elbows, and back. When showing safety-oriented videos and presentations, consider catering a lunch for employees -- small efforts will keep staff motivated and attentive.

4. Create Visual Safety Reminders

    Most offices won't require a 'Hard Hat Area' sign, but a potentially precarious staircase might warrant a 'Watch Your Step!' sign. Safety posters and signs can strengthen a company's legal case in the event of an accident, but they're most important for their value in reminding employees about potential dangers. The break room and bathrooms can be a great place for posters about fire safety or the importance of taking stretch breaks and remaining active throughout the day.

5. Encourage Speaking Up

    An employee should never hesitate to point out a potential hazard. Something as seemingly innocuous as an overloaded wall socket could ultimately lead to a fire, threatening lives, livelihoods, and the future of a business. Pointing out safety concerns should never be viewed as nit-picking. Instruct all managers to encourage speaking up and welcome all reports with a concerned attitude.

    In the event that you do recognize a hazard at your worksite, follow this process to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury.

    A. Try to eliminate the hazard (Engineering controls)

    B. Deal with the hazard (Administrative controls)

    C. Use protective equipment to reduce the hazard's risk

    For example, a delivery driver that regularly carries heavy boxes could wear a back brace to reduce the risk of straining their back, but that requires constant usage. The best solution would be to utilize a dolly or hand truck (A), eliminating the hazard. If that's not possible, teaching proper lifting techniques (B) will significantly reduce the risk of injury. The back brace (C) may be useful regardless, but always strive for elimination and solutions first.

When a company clearly makes employee health and safety a priority, their staff responds with loyalty and motivation. An injury helps nobody -- it has dramatic effects on an individual's life, costs them and the company money, and carries emotional consequences throughout the rest of the staff. By promoting safety at every level, your employees will smile and be more motivated to take care of themselves, and others, in the process.

Jay Acker leads a production team at safetyservicescompany.com that creates safety training materials. SSC offers contractor certification assistance for ISNetworld®, PICS®, and other contractor verification servicers.

1st Photo credit: lightfoot from morguefile.com. 2nd Photo credit: Alvimann from morguefile.com

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