In 2018, there were 5,250 fatal work injuries in the United States along with 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses. As an employer, you want your employees to feel safe coming to work and to stay safe on the job. As a business owner, you want your customers to feel safe shopping with you.
What can you do to improve company and employee safety? It’s a challenging question because safety has so many different aspects. You can consider the physical safety of employees and customers from accidents or dangerous materials, security of customer and employee data, and prevention of workplace violence. Considering each facet of safety is an important part of making your business as safe as it can be. Here are steps you can take in each area mentioned above.
Employee and Customer Physical Safety
Some workplaces are known for being dangerous, while in others the danger is more hidden. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 21.1% of worker fatalities happen on construction sites. With a retail or office environment, there are other, more subtle dangers including the fact that customers are frequently onsite. Finally, all workplaces need to consider their exposure to dangerous materials.
Accident Safety on Construction and Industrial Sites
Of the construction deaths mentioned, 58% were caused by one of four things: falls, being struck by an object, electrocutions, and being caught in or in-between objects.
If you have a construction or industrial site, it’s important to protect your employees from these hazards. OSHA’s mission is to maintain safety standards to help your workers stay safe. They note that common violations that increase injuries include inadequate fall protection, poor scaffolding, inappropriate use of ladders, and lack of machine guards and eye protection.
It’s vital to ensure that you have appropriate safety equipment and training on any worksite. The use of proper equipment and work processes must also be enforced. This involves not only teaching employees the rules but taking measures to incentivize following those steps.
Preventing Office and Retail Accidents
If you don’t have a construction or industrial site, you still need to manage hazards, but the dangers are less obvious. Common hazards in offices and retail environments affect both your employees and your customers, and include wet or slippery floors, falling merchandise and clutter in aisles, improper lifting, and accidents from using sharp tools or ladders. Employees can also suffer from repetitive strain injuries.
The best way to keep everyone safe in your office or retail store is frequent safety training. Everyone from a cashier to an accountant should know proper lifting techniques, the correct use of equipment, and how to clean up spills or clutter quickly. Emergency exits should be clearly marked, and employees should arrange to keep pathways clear of merchandise and clutter.
When your employees take these steps, it will also help keep your customers safe. If there’s a spill or concern, consider putting up a sign warning people to avoid the area or closing that section completely until the issue is resolved. Offices can also take advantage of a variety of technologies from ergonomics to apps that remind staff to get up from their desks and stretch.
Managing Dangerous Materials
Construction and industrial businesses generally have a variety of dangerous materials that can injure or sicken employees and customers. These include chemicals that are used in daily operations, the fuel that runs machinery, and heavy metals, and other components used to produce products.
What many business leaders don’t realize is that office workers and retail employees are also at risk from dangerous materials. Whether it’s asbestos in an office ceiling or refrigerant used in a cooler, there are hazardous substances around us all the time.
The first step toward managing this exposure is to perform a risk assessment. Become aware of what hazardous materials exist in your workplace and who is exposed to them. Then, set up safety measures that minimize contact and a process to handle any spills or accidents that may happen. When you’ve taken these steps, everyone in your company will be safer.
Customer and Employee Data
When business owners think about safety, they easily forget that physical safety is not the only concern. In today’s digital age, protecting your business systems from hackers and your data from compromise is essential. Both employees and customers are acutely aware that their data has been spread widely and that privacy steps are important. However, they cannot control how you use their data; that’s in your hands. As a responsible business, it’s vital to be up-to-date on the latest data security measures available.
A 2017 survey found that 54% of data breaches happen due to a negligent employee or contractor. Take the time to educate your employees about data security and the role they play in keeping customers and coworkers safe. From the basics of not opening attachments they don’t recognize to more advanced strategies like server security, all employees should be on the same page.
Another way data can be compromised involves the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our daily business lives. You may not even realize how much AI is accessing your systems, from autocompletes to pixels that track users to show ads. Motivated cyber criminals can use these same methods to attack your computer systems and steal data. To prevent AI-based attacks, look into endpoint protection solutions which will keep attackers from entering your network from servers, workstations, or mobile devices that are used to access your company’s systems.
Prevent Workplace Violence
On June 14, 2017, Jimmy Lam went to work at UPS. At the morning meeting, Lam opened fire on his coworkers, killing three and wounding two before taking his own life. It’s a senseless tragedy that makes your blood run cold. One of the things that is so difficult is that such workplace violence seems impossible to prevent. Who would think that someone would come to work and kill people? What could you possibly do to prevent this from happening?
Workplace violence is a significant challenge. While major incidents get significant media coverage, the truth is in 2018 alone, there were 20,790 injuries due to assaults along with 453 fatalities. It’s a much more widespread problem than people realize.
Keeping your premises gun-free is a significant step toward safety. It’s also essential to have frequent employee training on what to do in case violence erupts on the job. The Department of Homeland Security suggests training that involves three options: run, hide in a place you won’t be trapped, or fight as a last resort.
However, workplace violence is not always about assault. In fact, OSHA recognizes threats, harassment, intimidation, and dangerous, disruptive behavior as violence as well. To handle these incidents, be sure that employees have a way to report issues anonymously to human resources. HR must be committed to handling and resolving issues quickly and fairly. Also, be committed to your employees’ mental health. Whether you provide an employee assistance program or access to counseling, helping people get the assistance they need can go a long way toward preventing workplace violence of all kinds.
Also consider what safety measures you currently have in place that can serve double duty. For instance, in a manufacturing environment a metal detector may be in place to prevent theft of materials and parts. That metal detector can also serve as a way to prevent weapons from entering your facility. By using processes you already have in place, you can improve safety in a cost-effective way.
Improving Safety is an Ongoing Process
The good news about improving safety is that there are always a few things you can do right away to make an immediate impact and to help prevent accidents, however, there are always additional things in which you can improve. No workplace is — or can be — perfectly safe, but that doesn’t mean mitigation isn’t important.
When you take steps to protect your employees and customers, you can feel better about your business operations overall. Recognizing risks, putting safety measures in place, and maintaining accountability are all essential. Knowing you have a business environment that’s safe makes all the effort worthwhile.