7 Key Steps Every Organization Can Take to Promote Worplace Safety
By: Greg Sinko, MBA, CFE
For an effective internal control environment, one often hears about the importance of preventative measures compared to reactive procedures. A proactive approach is also important when it comes to workplace safety.
Preventative measures are relatively cheap, versus reacting to workplace accidents or OSHA fines, which are much more costly.
This article will discuss key procedures that an organization can utilize to help ensure employee safety.
1. Evaluate Building Safety
Workplace safety starts with the working conditions. Organizations can have a group of extremely safety-minded employees, but if the actual working conditions are negligently unsafe, there is still a big risk of workplace accidents.
For example, if a company manufactures products in a poorly maintained building or uses old, unsafe equipment, the associated risks are difficult to mitigate without having different working conditions altogether. Safety gear and accessories such as hard hats, safety glasses, steel toe boots, and yellow vests should be provided where appropriate. With this said, it may be necessary for management to speak with their wallet and tackle safety issues such as lack of safety accessories, old equipment or unsafe facilities. If management speaks about the importance of employee safety, but then forces employees to work in an unsafe environment, the employees are less likely to take safety seriously.
A specific building feature that improves safety is door locks. Certain sensitive areas such as the server room and dangerous areas should be locked and restricted to authorized personnel only. Locking the entire premises may also provide safety by mitigating external threats such as intruders.
2. Maintain a Company Safety Policy
An organizational safety policy can help reinforce upper management’s attitude towards safety and project its attitude towards safety on the rest of the organization. Without a written policy, employees may be unaware of the guidelines they should be following.
It may also be helpful to have safety policies at the department level, which may provide more specific safety procedures for appropriate employees.
Another level of safety reinforcement may be added by requiring employees to certify annually that they have read and understand the safety policy and procedures.
3. Conduct Safety Training
Training is another important aspect of workplace safety.
Part of the workforce, especially newer employees, may not be aware that they are performing their work in an unsafe way. Safety training will teach people to perform their jobs in a way that is in line with the organization’s safety standards. Training will also reinforce the importance of safety for employees who are already aware of the standards.
4. Designate a Safety Representative
“Tone at the top” is important in many aspects of an organization’s culture, including employee safety.
It is a good practice to designate a member of upper management as the safety “czar”. This role is typically filled by a Compliance Officer or HR Director.
Not only does this allow safety accountability to go through a centralized channel, it also carries weight by having a high-ranking official in charge of safety. Doing so sends a message to the rest of the organization that safety is a priority.
5. Demonstrate Zero Tolerance for Safety Violations
Management should properly handle safety violations. It is important for employees to see consequences when other members of the organization breach the safety policy. Employees who repeatedly commit serious safety violations should be terminated.
If such employees are allowed to continue working, they put everybody else at risk. This also sends the message that the organization is not that serious about workplace safety.
If an employee is terminated due to safety violations, this will serve as a deterrent to other employees. It can be especially effective to put a clause regarding safety violations in an employee’s contract. If it is deemed necessary to terminate an employee due to safety concerns, it can be better justified if there is a contractual clause regarding safety. Such a clause will also catch the attention of new hires and make it immediately known that the organization takes safety seriously.
6. Conduct Safety Audits
Conducting safety audits will serve two purposes: they will catch workplace safety violations which can be remediated, and audits will add a sense of detection which will help prevent others from committing violations.
7. Employ a Hotline
Employing a whistleblower hotline will allow employees to anonymously report safety violations, in a secure channel, to appropriate management representatives.
Since it is not possible for management to see everything that happens in all levels of an organization, employee tips are an important source for reporting violations. If an employee feels someone else’s actions are unsafe, it is important for them to have an outlet to be heard. The presence of a hotline alone may be enough to prevent employees from committing safety violations.
This article is not attempting to say that employees want to commit safety violations but certain steps must be implemented to keep people safe. It is human nature to take shortcuts when there is an easier way to complete a task. In certain cases, employees are not aware they are committing safety violations. In other cases, employees know the rules but think the rules are burdensome and shouldn’t apply to them. The truth is that those employees may be jeopardizing the safety of themselves and their coworkers even if they believe they are acting safely.
The steps listed above may help prevent violations from occurring. It is better for organizations to invest the relatively small amount of time and money required for a robust safety environment instead of waiting for costly workplace accidents to occur.
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