How to Decrease Workplace Injuries
In 2016, the National Safety Council projected that workplace deaths and accidents cost the government, individuals, and employers $151 billion. Expenses like medical bills, lost productivity, and workers’ compensation payments pile up to create a staggering deficit, costing employers billions. Such workplace injuries are especially detrimental to small businesses. With fewer staff members available to fill the gap created by an injured employee, small businesses are disproportionately impacted by workplace accidents. While worker’s compensation helps cover medical bills and lost earnings for affected employees, businesses still lose revenue due to reduced productivity, increased over time, and replacement training.
However, employers can save time and money by reducing the risk of injury on the front end. Preventing workplace injuries is not only possible but profitable. By working to decrease workplace injuries through comprehensive safety measures, employers can save themselves and the government money and protect the lives of their employees.
But how exactly can you minimize workplace injuries? Detailing preventative measures and necessary safety precautions, read on to learn how a comprehensive safety and wellness plan prioritizes education and prevention can help your business. Then, when you research safety vulnerabilities and maximize compliance, you can create a safe and productive workplace.
Prevention and Precaution: Developing a Comprehensive Safety Plan
The best way to decrease workplace injuries is not to have any in the first place. The best way to prevent accidents is to instate thorough preventative measures while also outlining necessary safety precautions.
Pre-placement physicals ensure that employees are able and ready to perform the work you need them to do. Screening applicants reduces accidents caused by inexperience or physical inability, but pre-placement physicals also have disadvantages.
Pre-placement physicals have a variety of benefits, such as:
- Identifying Illness or Physical Impairment
Pre-placement physicals help identify potential employees’ physical limitations, ensuring they can perform the necessary work. Screening for illness and ability helps to prevent workplace injuries. For example, when an employee can physically lift heavy objects or operate machinery, they are less likely to injure themselves or others. These screenings can help protect your profits and employees simultaneously.
Screening new hires may be especially beneficial if the open position requires intense physical labor such as:
- Heavy lifting
- Repetitive or intense physical activity
- Operating heavy machineries such as trucks or forklifts
- Possible exposure to hazardous chemicals such as pesticides or solvents
- Hyper-specialized tasks such as electrical work or plumbing
- Collecting Vital Medical Data
Pre-placement physicals collect essential medical information from potential employees, ensuring that they can perform the labor. If you decide to hire a new recruit, keeping the data from their physical examination on file can prove extremely useful. In addition, their pre-placement medical information functions as a helpful baseline, streamlining worker’s compensation applications and other paperwork.
Though a pre-placement physical examination keeps potential employees safe and streamlines operations, there are a few cons you must also consider:
- Testing Bias
Though licensed healthcare professionals conduct pre-placement physicals, individual biases can sometimes skew the examination results. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the examiner may bring their racial or gender bias to bear on the potential employee, causing unintended adverse effects and creating the potential for costly lawsuits. For this reason, you should only order pre-placement physicals when they are essential; otherwise, the risks may outweigh the benefits. However, screening for overall health for intense physical labor is appropriate if the exams are conducted thoughtfully and with conscious attention to biases.
- Delays in Employment
While pre-placement physicals can decrease workplace injuries, screening candidates for health risks is costly and time-consuming. Because these examinations often exceed their scope and identify extraneous conditions, employers and employees must engage in lengthy follow-ups, delaying employment. In addition, these findings often lead to unnecessary expenses, diverting funding away from more pressing matters.
While it is important to acknowledge the negative effects of pre-placement screening, there is a clear and identifiable difference between thoughtful hiring and discrimination. While it’s okay to test new hires to ensure they are physically able to perform the work, testing current employees (especially if they are older) is discriminatory. But as long as you know the risks and remain aware of employer and examiner biases throughout the hiring process, a pre-placement physical can be an asset in the reduction of workplace injury.
To decrease workplace injuries, cultivate a safety standard, and create a culture that values safety over productivity. Workplace safety should be a concern for leadership and laborers alike, sharing responsibilities across the board. For example, provide tasks to your employees and managers with instating, maintaining, and troubleshooting workplace safety programs, ensuring compliance through collaboration.
As soon as you hire a new employee, educate them on the importance of safety in the workplace, so they know how to best keep themselves and others safe. Educated employees are careful employees, and taking the time to train your workers on safety best practices will pay off in the long run.
After training your employees, remember to monitor compliance to ensure that they abide by and implement safety measures. Finally, reward employees who set a good example, and you can create a bottom-up safety culture that protects employees and profits simultaneously.
Supplemental training is one of the most effective ways to increase workplace safety, educating employees about best protecting themselves and others. For example, it can help employees learn how to lift heavy objects without damaging their bodies. First-aid training is also beneficial, ensuring that your workers respond effectively in an accident.
Identifying Safety Vulnerabilities
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While every business has its unique safety concerns, identifying safety vulnerabilities is the best way to decrease workplace accidents across the board. To determine your business’s safety, evaluate your operations from top to bottom, reviewing your equipment as well as your workplace activities.
When or if workplace accidents occur, take note of the common denominators in each accident. Did the equipment malfunction? Was the forklift operator running on empty due to a tiresome double shift? Pay special attention to common errors and mistakes to keep them from happening again. During your evaluation, be sure to confer directly with your employees. Because they work day after day on the facility’s ground floor, they will likely have unique insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your operation. Learning your employees’ safety concerns not only keeps them satisfied and protected but also provides valuable insight on potential improvements.
Once you’ve identified a recurring problem, work to solve the root cause. This may mean investing in new equipment, hiring additional staff, or offering supplemental safety training for current employees. After installing the new equipment or streamlined operations, remember to analyze these new additions for risks, too.
Keeping a neat, orderly workplace is also vital. Well-marked footpath markings, debris-free walkways, and spill cleanup stations contribute to a tidy workplace, reducing easily preventable health and safety hazards.
Invest in Protective Equipment
Protecting equipment matters when protecting your workforce; simply identifying unsafe practices or faulty equipment is not enough – you must also work to mitigate hazards. One of the best ways to reduce risk is to invest in protective gear. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, minimizes employee exposure to hazards, preventing workplace illness or injury. Whether your workers deal with physical, mechanical, electrical, or chemical hazards, PPE will keep them safe from harm and direct exposure. Depending on your industry, protective equipment can include safety glasses, gloves, protective shoes, hard hats, earplugs, and face shields.
Ensure that the garments fit comfortably to ensure that employees use and wear them. A poorly-fitted garment is not only uncomfortable, but also puts employees at risk of dangerous exposure—train employees about properly wearing, adjusting, and removing their garments to ensure proper fit.
Investing more in state-of-the-art safety equipment on the front end will protect your employees from injury and save you money in the long run. Train your employees about using each item to get the most protection from their surroundings. For example, if your employees get exposed to molten metal or liquid chemicals, instruct them to wear safety glasses or a face shield. Or, if your workers are lifting heavy objects, remind them to wear protective shoes to shield their feet.
Maintain Adequate Staffing Levels
Overworked employees are more prone to mistakes. Not only are they exhausted, but they are more likely to take shortcuts and cut corners to meet employer expectations. Therefore, better staffing and increased staffing availability are critical in decreasing workplace injuries. When you have a larger pool of qualified employees who are working reasonable hours with effective pay, not only will your employees be happier and healthier: they will also be less prone to illness and mistakes. Stress and overwork are detrimental to morale and physical health, but maintaining adequate staffing levels can help prevent these ill effects.