What Is a Safe Working Environment?
A safe working environment can be defined as one that prevents injuries, maintains safety precautions, and works to prevent the spread of disease. Employee health and safety policies should be a number one priority for employers. When safety in the work environment is lacking, the negative consequences will have an impact on employees and employers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970, by the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA ensures safe working conditions for employees by enforcing education, training, and assistance when needed, in order to create safe working environments.
How To Create a Safe Working Environment
Risk Management: Successful risk management programs help to identify, assess, and control risks and threats in the workplace that may hinder safety protocols. Risk management is instrumental in establishing a safe working environment and culture. Risk management teams will monitor and manage risks that may affect work safety for employees. Make sure your business has good risk management staff or teams.
Compliance Officer/Teams: A compliance officer in a business may be involved in helping the organization to stay protected from various risks that arise. Compliance officers or teams work closely with established rules and regulations, including business protocols. A risk management individual, or team, helps to protect employers and employees from risks that otherwise could lead to non-compliance. Risk management and compliance are closely related, but not always viewed as the same entity.
Policies And Procedures: Every business, large or small, should have policies and procedures (P&P) that they follow in all areas of the business, especially when creating a safe working environment. Your business policies should be reviewed quarterly or annually by your management teams, HR administrators, or board of directors to edit and refine updates or additions. Good P&P communicates day-to-day operations as well as the connection to the business vision. When you create good policies and procedures for your business, there will be little room for misunderstanding or setting precedents.
Leadership Behavior: It is important for leadership teams, managers, and supervisors to set realistic expectations in regard to workplace safety. Expectations and commitment from upper management to creating a safe working environment are the key to the organization’s safety culture, ideas, and protocols. Leaders and managers can help facilitate safety protocol discussions and advocate for change where it is needed.
Employee Handbooks: A company handbook, or Intranet links to handbooks, usually are given to employees during hiring and onboarding orientations. These handbooks provide company information that all employees need to know. Included in many handbooks are vacation and sick leave guidelines, holidays, uniform requirements, dress codes, code of conduct, benefits, compensation, resignation policies, and termination processes, to name a few. Also included in many handbooks are health and safety protocols.
Employee Responsibility: As an employee, you should take time to review your handbooks and follow what is required or encouraged. Many handbooks have disclaimers that state the handbook is not a contract. Reading your employer handbooks can help you better understand how to operate, and what to ask, especially in regard to workplace health and safety. Find out the information you need to know you are safely covered in your workplace.
Peer-to-Peer: Coworkers are in great positions to discuss workplace safety, or to discover safety catches, if needed. It is during these times when safety concerns may be shared and then brought to the attention of a manager or supervisor. For example, coworkers in a break room area may notice that no one puts out the customary yellow “wet floor” sign when the floor is wet from mopping or spillage. Falls and injuries from wet floor areas are all too common. Other concerns might include: empty coffee pots left on burners that can cause fires, electrical outlet problems, machinery malfunctions or hazards, and even making sure that a first-aid kit is available in staff areas. Staff who work in the offices and on the production floors each day are the best individuals to notice if things need attention.
Ownership: You should act safely at work, just as you do at home or when driving a vehicle. As an employee, you need to make sure you have the tools and understanding to do the job you are assigned. Making sure that the equipment you use is not faulty, or dangerous, is a very important safety concern. It is essential to speak up, as needed, not only to protect yourself, but to safeguard others in the workplace each day. It is also a good idea to become familiar with fire, tornado, and active shooter protocols. You never know when something you weren’t expecting to happen happens. It is so important to know how to respond in a frightful or tense situation. You have every right to know you are safe in the workplace.
Stay Alert: Just because you have done the job “forever and I know what to do,” or you feel like “nothing will happen to me,” does not mean safety should be ignored. Just like taking ownership, making sure that you are alert to dangers or concerns is also very important. Jobs that require climbing, harness safety, eye protection, conveyor belt protocols, and/or protective clothing require special attention. Stay alert. Stay protected. Your job is important, but your safety is more important. If you suspect certain safety measures are not being followed in your organization, give yourself permission to talk it over with a manager or risk management. You could be the change that helps make things happen in a safer manner for you and for others.
Working From Home
For many people, working from home provides more flexibility, possible increased family time, and the ability to flex hours. On the other hand, working from home has its own set of rules and possible hazards, when it comes to a safe working environment. According to OSHA, employees who work from home must maintain certain conditions in their home office environment. An employer still has the responsibility of making sure that the office space is free from hazards and that safety procedures are followed.
Home office safety topics might include: floors free from spills and slippery surfaces; stairs equipped with handrails; secure and confidential computers, depending on the job and the work being conducted; fire safety; electrical safety; and good ventilation. These are just a few topics that employers should be aware of for employees working from home. Health and safety while working from home may have an impact on the employer, if an accident happens when the employee is on company time. Check with your employer to make sure of the policies for your organization and how you are protected while working from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, and will no doubt continue to influence how we work and the safety protocols we follow. In the workplace, COVID-19 protocols may include wearing masks, taking temperatures, and providing hand sanitizer at every entrance and in every office space.
The risk for exposure in the office is high, with contaminated surfaces and objects, and with the potential for dealing with a customer base that enters the doors each day. Working from home carries similar COVID-19 concerns, as the home office space should be sanitized, and preventative measures should be used when necessary. Safety should be number one in the home office space as well as at the office.
Safety All Around
Whether working from home or in the office, health and safety protocols should be followed to optimize the best possible workplace environment. Policies and procedures, good communication, respect, and openness are vital qualities to bridge trust and to make sure that there is a safe working environment for the labor force each day. Office staff, at-home employees, frontline healthcare workers, production floor staff, and all of the jobs in-between, deserve a safe and healthy working environment.