Four Workplace Accident Prevention Strategies
Private industry employers reported nearly 2.9 million workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data. Of those, 5,190 were fatal workplace injuries. Though these injury and fatality statistics decreased from 2015, they indicate a continuing need for workplace injury prevention.
Injury prevention programs promote safe workplaces for employees and help business owners maintain or lower workers’ compensation premiums by reducing the number or severity of claims. They can also lead to developing a positive safety culture. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for how to prevent injuries in the workplace, but there are key considerations to keep in mind.
No matter the industry, workplace accident prevention strategies should address four important areas: personal protective equipment, workplace organization, weather-related precautions and vehicular safety.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the safety gear and equipment that protects workers from injuries or illnesses that could be caused by chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical or other workplace hazards.
Safety equipment is industry and job-specific, but often includes steel-toed rubber boots, non-prescription eye protection, protective gloves, hard hats, face shields and more. Employers should train workers to use their PPE correctly and promote a safety-first culture where employees are encouraged to keep themselves and their co-workers safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s comprehensive guide to a variety of PPE’s and their specifications can be found here.
In the hectic world of foodservice, chefs demand their kitchens operate under the philosophy of “mise en place.” That’s French for “everything put in its proper place.” It makes sure the kitchen staff knows where all ingredients and tools are so food preparation runs smoothly. The concept also applies to workplace safety in other industries. Staff and supervisors must work to keep physical workspaces tidy – where everything is in its proper place and injury-causing clutter is eliminated.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported falls, slips and trips caused 849 workplace deaths in 2016. These types of accidents often occur when things are forgotten and unattended, such as a toolbox left on a repair shop floor, an uncleaned spill or an out-of-place machine. Workplace layouts should have adequate and clearly marked foot paths so employees know how to navigate through the space, along with clearly marked emergency exits. It should also be proper practice to have workplaces cleaned at the end of a shift and reset with everything in its correct location ahead of the next shift or workday.
Some workers are regularly exposed to Mother Nature’s extreme cold and heat. This includes anyone working in agriculture, construction, emergency response, hospitality, landscaping, maintenance, recreation, repair, schools, telecommunications, transit and utilities.
Those who toil outside in cold weather or in refrigerated areas must take steps to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Both types of cold-stress illnesses and injuries can put employees out of commission for a significant amount of time. These increase the costs associated with workers’ compensation claims and premiums, reduces productivity, requires higher wage replacement and can result in hurting employee morale. Where possible, employers should advocate for scheduling outdoor work in cold areas for warmer months or warmer times of the day. It’s also important to remind employees to dress properly for cold temperatures and bring in relief workers or extra workers for tough and time-consuming jobs. Providing warm break areas for employees and warm liquids can also help prevent related injuries.
Those who work in hot temperatures face a different set of hazards, such as heat rash and cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To help workers stay cool, employers should provide easy access to fresh, cold water and make sure employees take regular hydration breaks. For outdoor workers, provide a water cooler located in a shaded area. In warm indoor environments, such as kitchens, make sure fans and air conditioning units are available and operating properly.
Warmer temperatures can tempt some workers to try to stay cool by not wearing certain safety equipment, such as goggles, masks, gloves or other protective clothing. Even in hot summer months, employers need to make sure everyone wears the necessary safety equipment for their job. Knowing how to recognize heat-related illness symptoms and deliver appropriate care to a worker suffering from heat-related exposure is another important step a business owner can take to help keep their employees safe.
Millions of people drive motor vehicles as part of their jobs. Unfortunately, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity. Plus, motor vehicle accidents can drive up workers' compensation costs.
Employers can reduce the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents by screening out drivers with poor driving records. Business owners should establish clear company policies that encourage safe driving. Employees should be required to wear seat belts and not use their cell phones while driving. Businesses should also use vehicles with high safety rankings and make sure they stay on top of scheduled maintenance and repair schedules. OSHA recommends having a mechanic perform a thorough annual inspection of each vehicle with documented results placed in each vehicle's files.
Workplace accident prevention strategies are most effective when management clearly defines the company’s safety goals, communicates those goals to employees, and gets employees actively involved in the injury prevention program. This can lead to lower absenteeism, higher productivity, greater loyalty to the company and improved communications and relationships between employers and employees.
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The information provided is intended to provide a general overview. This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. EMPLOYERS® makes no warranties for the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of the information provided, and will not be responsible for any actions taken based on the information contained herein. If you have legal questions or need legal advice, please consult an attorney.