A lot of managers have an antagonistic relationship with workplace safety guidelines. It’s not their fault, certainly; when rules and regulations are handed down like commandments from on high, it can be hard to respect them and easy to get annoyed. However, the reality of the situation is more complicated. Workplace safety guidelines exist not only to protect employees from harm, but also to protect employers and workplaces from tragedy and litigation. Although, it may seem like a pain in the butt sometimes, workplace safety benefits everyone involved. Here are some key principles of workplace safety for managers and owners to live by.
Identify Office Hazards
The idea of hazards in an office setting may seem laughable, but it’s this sort of attitude that leaves you most open to danger. Obviously, employees who work in cubicles are objectively in less danger than those who deal with heavy equipment and loads in a warehouse. However, the fact that these hazards are unexpected can make them even more dangerous. Think about it this way: you expect a forklift to be dangerous, so you’re careful around it. You don’t expect loose wires at the office to hurt you, though, so you don’t make any effort to protect yourself from these hazards.
Here are some hazards to look out for in your office:
- Heavy Objects: Although it’s not quite hard labor, many employees will have to do some heavy lifting at some point in their careers. Whether it’s lifting desks as part of a an office restructuring or carrying a freshly filled water cooler, heavy objects are unavoidable in most career paths. If done improperly heavy lifting can cause serious back injuries.
- Asbestos: The average workplace is located in an older building. While many such buildings have since been check for an asbestos threat, this is not a universal truth. Loose asbestos in your building can lead to mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer.
- Repetitive Strain: Virtually every office employee these days works with a keyboard. While it may seem silly to imagine a person being injured by such a simple task, the reality is that unending use of weaker muscle groups like those used in typing can lead to repetitive strain injuries later on down the road.
- Automobile Accidents: It’s not uncommon for even desk jobs to require an occasional stint behind the wheel. However, when employees are asked to drive in high pressure situations (e.g. to deliver critical documents before the post office closes) or handle company vehicles that they’re unfamiliar with, things can go belly up quite quickly.
Once you’ve identified likely hazards in your workplace, it’s time to create a plan of action to protect you and your employees. At best, your plan will lead to a hazard-free workplace. At worst it will protect you from reckless litigation from employees who did not heed your warnings. Here are some things you can do to make your workplace safer:
- Communicate With Employees: Training employees in the proper technique for lifting heavy objects can be the difference between an easy move and a painful one. Good technique involves lifting with your legs rather than your back and holding the heavy load close to your body. You should also be aware of the health problems that your employees may suffer and give them a private means of letting you know that they are unable to handle heavy loads. Nearly 23 percent of Americans suffer from arthritis, which can make heavy lifting incredibly painful and dangerous.
- Check Your Building: Asbestos testing is simple and can be done on your own with the proper tools. When one simple test can save you from crushing litigation in the future, you had better believe it’s worth it.
- Stretch: Walking employees through a simple stretching routine can save them from painful wrist and finger injuries down the road. A good time to stretch is during frequent breaks from typing. These breaks will keep employees from overusing their muscles and give them time to refresh their minds.
- Certify Drivers: Make sure that only employees who are trained to handle vehicles (and your company’s vehicles specifically) do so. There are few things more dangerous than an untrained driver behind the wheel of a delivery truck. Once your employees are properly trained, you may be able to seek a tax deduction for automobile accidents on the clock.
By looking carefully at the potential hazards at your place of work and taking action in response to what you find you can protect your employees from harm and yourself from litigation.
Author: Nick Cesare works at a local startup in Boise, ID. He’s interested in how businesses can rework themselves to be environmentally friendly and take charge of improving their own environmental communities. You can reach Nick @cesare_nick.