When I was growing up, my dad would tell cautionary tales of ways people had been injured by doing an everyday activity around the house.
He would remind me and my siblings about the dangers of falling down the stairs, electrocuting ourselves with a hair dryer, or leaning back too far in our chairs.
His stories grew to be legendary in my family. We started teasing him about having a scary anecdote for any daily activity a person could do.
The problem was, he wasn’t being paranoid. All his stories were true. And he knew about them because he received regular safety training for his job. He talked about falls so much because falls are a common cause of injury in the workplace and at home. In fact, a friend of mine just recently got a concussion from falling on her stairs.
We can’t remind ourselves too often about the importance of workplace safety procedures. These policies are especially necessary for jobs that carry a serious risk of injury.
What the Data Says
The CDC, OSHA, and other agencies found that in 2016, the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S. included construction workers, EMTs, and trucker drivers. The list included professions you would expect, such as law enforcement, as well as ones you might not, such as farmers and veterinarians.
Other information indicates that both employers and employees under prioritize workplace safety. A survey by the National Safety Council (NSC) found that around one-third of employees in the U.S. believe their employers care more about completing projects than they do about protecting their staff.
Surprisingly, that number is even greater in high-risk industries where it is most important to take precautions. Sixty percent of construction workers believe that employers value task completion over job safety.
On the other hand, sometimes job seekers themselves ignore the importance of safety for the sake of a getting a well-paying job. In early 2016, SAFE Work Manitoba ran ads for fake jobs that were obviously unsafe. The ads were targeted at young people, and over 2500 interested applicants responded. The openings included a construction job that lacked proper safety equipment and a convenience store position that involved working alone overnight.
The point is that both employers and employees need to take workplace safety seriously. It might be tempting to keep quiet about potential hazards. You might worry you’ll appear as though you can’t handle your job. Or you might be reluctant to disrupt policies that have been around for a while.
But this hesitation could allow others to suffer serious harm. Both management and workers need to be proactive in preventing avoidable dangers in the workplace.
If an Injury Should Occur
You should plan what steps you’ll need to take if you do injure yourself at your job. If you wait till an accident actually happens, you’ll have a hard time making important decisions while in the middle of the stress and trauma caused by your injury.
For example, you might work in a field with a lot of hazards, such as in construction or the oilfield industry. You should learn ahead of time what your insurance does and does not cover based on your situation and where you live. While Workers’ Comp should cover your injuries (and even long-term medical care), what it covers varies by state.
And sometimes Workers’ Comp will not provide for every circumstance that could arise from your accident. For example, J. Reyna Law Firm says that “your claim may be denied, or your employer may contest your filing. For those in dire need of medical attention, such situations can make it extremely hard to get back to life as normal.”
That’s why it’s important to know ahead of time what you’re going to do if such an incident occurs. No matter what, if you experience a serious injury on the job, make sure you report it by calling 911. And don’t talk to any insurance company until you’ve contacted an attorney you trust.
Preventative Measures Employers Can Take
But the best action you can take is creating a safe work environment so that injuries or deaths don’t happen in the first place.
Establishing a safe work environment boils down to a few basic steps. You should make sure you have carefully thought out your procedures. Be certain that your employees actually follow those procedures. And reassess your policies on a regular basis. Thorough employee training and a healthy working culture are important aspects of your safety policy.
While it’s easy to say what companies need to do, there are still several mistakes organizations commonly make. Safety+Health Magazine identifies some widespread issues that contribute to hazards on the job.
Falls and Cleanliness
The first is the potential for falls. Fourteen percent of workplace fatalities in 2014 resulted from falls, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To prevent such fatalities from happening at your company, you can hire a safety professional to evaluate where you need fall protection. You might need it in areas you wouldn’t expect. You should also provide and maintain the appropriate protection gear. Training employees regarding fall protection and regularly reevaluating your procedures is critical.
Another common workplace hazard is not keeping areas clean, especially places people would need to access in an emergency. For example, avoid using electrical rooms for storage. Or you might have something stacked so high that it blocks the emergency sprinklers that would come on in a fire.
Of course, messiness can also cause people to slip and fall.
Organization, Maintenance, and Usage
Another common problem is how people use extension cords. Companies often use them as a long-term solution instead of a temporary one. It’s common for businesses to “daisy chain,” meaning multiple cords or power strips are hooked together for one device. This usage can lead to overheating and potentially a fire. Along the same lines, it’s important to use the right gauge cord for the right job.
Extension cords are another a tripping hazard. Problems could also arise from people or machines wearing them down by constantly running over them.
Workplace injuries frequently happen when people are worried about completing a project on time. This pressure is a common cause of forklift accidents. Employees need to be properly trained, but also make sure you have enough forklifts and operators to complete tasks on time. Keep the machines in good working order, and keep them away from foot traffic.
Not only do you need to keep machinery in good condition, but you also need to preserve correct lockout/tagout procedures. This you can do by having strong safety rules and training and by constantly reevaluating your procedures.
A couple other cautions involve chemicals and confined spaces. Be extremely careful that you inventory your chemicals. Don’t lose track of them, and be cautious when transporting them. When working in confined spaces, make sure you have the appropriate permits and that you accurately assess the environment.
It’s also wise to listen to your employees’ input on your safety policies. After all, they are the ones closely interacting with them from day to day.
As Namir George of the NSC says, “‘If you don’t plan it correctly, you plan for a disaster.’”
What Employees Can Do
As an employee, one of the most important steps you can take for your own safety and for the safety of those around you is to speak up when you notice a hazard.
The NSC found that almost half of all employees working in health care or who were contract workers felt uncomfortable reporting safety issues. This is a warning to employers to encourage cultures where people feel safe speaking up. But employees are responsible as well. If you don’t say anything about a possible danger, you could be keeping silent about a life or death situation.
As an employee, be conscientious about your environment. Follow the policies your employer lays out regarding equipment and machine use. Don’t take shortcuts even if it isn’t apparent to you why you need to follow a certain procedure.
Use your own common sense for preserving a safe environment. Don’t push what you can physically handle when you could just as well use a machine to do your work.
And besides speaking up about dangers, you can go a long way toward maintaining workplace safety by taking care of yourself. Keep a healthy work/life balance, and try to minimize the amount of stress you carry around. When people get tired, they become sloppy and start making mistakes. Do what you can to rest well.
No Complacency About Safety
The Harvard Business Review has a sobering warning against complacency about workplace safety. Neil Swidey explains that injuries and deaths most often occur towards the end of projects for two reasons. One is there is pressure to finish the projects. Another is leaders start taking for granted that no one will get hurt.
At the beginning of a task, people have the most alertness and energy they will have during any point of working on it. But by the end of a project, it’s easy to think that because nothing has gone wrong so far, nothing will.
Referring to the deaths of three divers who had been involved with the construction of a tunnel, Swidey says that pressure and overconfidence had affected the project’s leaders. They were unable “to assess risk in any meaningful way.”
The dangers outlined in this post arise when people permit ignorance, fear, fatigue, stress, and laziness. By addressing these issues, you can protect yourself and your employees from serious injuries, and even death.
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