Workplace safety is not a casual element of owning or managing a business. It is a serious issue that cuts across industries, even to businesses that do not carry the perception of being “dangerous.”
Construction companies know they are sending their workers into a dangerous environment requiring the utmost focus on safety. However, a restaurant owner or bank manager might not perceive their environment as being dangerous.
Whether you are sending workers to a construction site or waiters to the dining area, you need to ensure that your employees are equipped with the right tools to prevent workplace safety liability.
Why is Workplace Safety An Important Issue for Businesses?
Before diving into the recommended tools for workplace safety, it is important to understand why this is a critical issue for your business. There are serious financial and business implications if workers are placed in an unsafe working environment.
Financial Considerations of EPL Claims
Requires valuable HR time and resources to address insurance claims.
Expensive legal fees to evaluate and potentially litigate the claims.
Eats into profit margin by taking time, money, and resources away from revenue-driving activity.
Business Considerations of EPL Claims
Absenteeism due to the affected worker(s) missing time, disrupting productivity.
Lower morale due to remaining workers concerned about their safety.
Tarnished image if workplace safety issues are associated with your company or brand.
Negatively impacts all facets of your business: investors, customers, current employees, and prospective employees.
In business terms, workplace safety is a matter of loss of value and loss of reputation.
“We say ‘safety first’ -- well, either we mean that or we don't,” says Ken Dunham, the VP of Human Resources for Rogers-O’Brien Construction. “If we mean it, then every meeting, every communication, every decision, or directive starts with ‘safety’ something. If we don't really mean ‘safety first,’ then we lack integrity and are not doing what we say we're doing, and that's a trust issue. Over time, people feel that and you see it in your bottom line.”
Tools to Include in New-Hire and Ongoing Training
According to the latest information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top three causes of occupational injury and illness involve fatigue, falls, and equipment-related issues:
Overexertion and bodily reaction
Falls, slips, and trips
Contact with objects or equipment
Each of these categories is preventable with a comprehensive program that includes these five tools: an assessment to evaluate the emotional intelligence of job candidates and employees, training sessions, communication, fatigue management, and space considerations.
1. Use an Assessment to Understand Each Individual’s Clarity of Thinking
The first tool in your training program to prevent workplace incidents is an assessment that identifies each individual’s clarity of thinking and biases.
-For job candidates: measure each candidate’s emotional intelligence to identify individuals who pose a risk to workplace safety before the individual is hired. From a positive perspective, the assessment will also reveal individuals who have competencies that align with attention to workplace safety.
- For employees: measure each employee’s emotional intelligence to identify blind spots related to workplace safety. Then, you can provide customized training to help close these gaps, reducing the risk of workplace incidents.
Consider the following “red flag” behavior that the assessment results reveal about an individual’s thinking:
Too quick to act without thinking through their actions
Inattentive to safety rules and procedures
Lack of moral or ethical guidelines
Inattention to personal rules or goals
Conversely, consider the following “green flag” behavior tied to the thinking patterns of a person who contributes to a safe workplace environment:
Aware of what’s happening around them
Attentive to safety rules and procedures
Clear moral and ethical guidelines
Medium to high self-esteem
Attention to their personal goals and rules
Does not have an addictive personality
Using the assessment results to match thinking patterns to safe or unsafe behavior will help you make informed hiring decisions. The assessment results will also provide an outline of safety training for new hires and current employees.
2. Training Program: How Much Time and Effort is Required?
It is important to remember that workplace safety training should be provided for all employees, not just the employees who have blind spots in the areas related to workplace safety issues. Even employees with “green flags” need continual training to reinforce your safety message.
Unfortunately, many companies use outdated, general training material packed into a short training window. Or, the person administering the training does not prioritize this essential task and sees it as a burden taking them away from other tasks.
To prevent workplace safety liability, you must start at the beginning ensuring that your trainers are trained on the material, keep up with the latest safety trends, and are passionate about workplace safety. Then, your trainers will be empowered to build and execute a custom training program that includes:
Structured training modules for new and current employees relative to their tasks.
Micro modules that serve as refreshers on the most important material.
Media such as videos and webinars to reinforce critical safety messages.
Advanced training components such as virtual reality exposure to risky situations.
3. Communication Must Be Embedded In Your Training and Culture
The content in your training should build a fundamental understanding of the importance of safety in your company.
If the content is based on comical videos that are more amusing than informative, you will send the wrong message about workplace safety. Additionally, this message will carry forward in a negative way throughout the employee’s time in the company, increasing the risk of workplace incidents.
However, if trainers stress the seriousness of workplace safety, take ownership of the material, and ensure that new and current employees understand the importance of safety, the message will carry forward in a positive way throughout the employee’s time in the company, reducing the risk of workplace incidents.
The methods to send a positive message that builds safety into your training and culture include:
Assertive communication techniques that encourage employees to participate and receive feedback.
Evidence-based exercises that help employees own the material and understand where they fit in the big picture.
Emphasis on the consequences of safety lapses with stories, illustrations, and activities that create a memorable, emotional connection.
4. Fatigue Management Requires Communication and No Fear
As identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the No. 1 cause of occupational incidents is fatigue. This ties in with building a culture of communication in your company to help prevent workplace safety liability.
In many companies, employees fear reporting fatigue. They do not want to be viewed as unreliable or “soft.” The unfortunate result is employees push themselves beyond their capabilities or their supervisor pushes them to do more, stay later, or do someone else’s job.
Sure, some employees can push hard for short spurts to increase productivity. However, if employees are asked to overly-exert for an extended period, you risk workplace incidents that could negatively impact your business.
If you are unsure about the quality of your company’s fatigue management, ask these questions:
Are employees empowered to self-report fatigue without fear of repercussions?
Are supervisors trained to identify fatigue in their employees?
Is there an anonymous method for employees to report fatigued co-workers?
Are employees capable of self-policing fatigue because of the quality of your training?
5. Space Considerations Will Reduce the Risk of Workplace Issues
According to the BLS report, the number two and three causes of workplace incidents relate to the spatial environment where work is performed.
Falls, slips, and trips are often the result of not being mindful of surroundings and a lack of communication with other employees.
Meanwhile, contact with objects or equipment is often related to a lack of space to perform tasks, not being adequately trained on the equipment, or employees performing tasks outside of their job duties.
What should your training program consist of to ensure that new and current employees avoid these issues to provide a safe work environment?
Teach mindfulness in your training program -- some individuals are deficient in this area.
Instruct employees to build reflective pauses into their work processes -- take a breath.
Hold employees and supervisors accountable for their workplace environment -- clean and organize.
Training, communication, fatigue management, and space considerations all play a vital role in ensuring workplace safety. The foundation of how to build an effective program starts with the assessment.