Safety in the Workplace: 5 Steps to Reduce Workplace Injuries and Liability

Safety in the workplace is a concern for all HR pros. Whether you work in an office where the most heavy-lifting you’ll do is the water cooler, or you work in a factory with dangerous machinery, you must have safety policies and procedures firmly in place, and they must be followed. Liability is in the hands of the HR pro, so it’s your job to create and implement practices that will keep employees, and the company safe. So I’ve outlined five steps you can take to keep everyone, including the company, safe.

5. Create and enforce strategic consequences for safety violations.

Part of being within OSHA’s regulations, is being able to prove that you not only have safety guidelines and disciplinary actions in place, but that you actually enforce them.  A five step disciplinary system is standard. The first and second steps are a warning with a note in their personnel file. The third step is generally a written warning to the employee in violation. The fourth step, is a final warning with possible suspension. The fifth and final step, ends in termination. If you follow and enforce the five step system each and every time you catch someone violating a safety policy, it’s unlikely you’ll get punished by OSHA.

4. Train and inform your employees of the safety guidelines.

It is important that employees know what is expected of them safety-wise. This means all of the safety policies and procedures and their corresponding disciplinary actions. This goes beyond handing out a safety manual to a new hire. Depending on the likelihood of injury, quiz’s on policy are a good idea to see how well employees know the safety rules. It’s also a good idea to hold safety meetings, where you can update and inform employees about new and existing procedures.

3. Reward safe workers.

Like nearly all things in life, you get the best results from giving people the incentive to do what’s right, as opposed to only punishing people for for wrong-doing. OSHA discourages the use of programs that reward departments or individuals who have the fewest, or longest time without an injury in the workplace, because it tends to discourage people from reporting injuries. Instead, try handing out a small gift-card, or other item, when you notice them doing something safely and correctly, along with verbal or written recognition. Perhaps you could even tally the amount of safe work practices you observe, and reward the department or individual who has been observed practicing the most safely, over time. Rewards for good behavior provide additional incentive for employees to follow the rules.

2. Supervise your employees.

Making sure employees are properly supervised is key to maintaining a safe work environment. If employees are in the presence of a supervisor, they are less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to learn if they’re accidentally violating a safety rule. If a supervisor isn’t available to constantly watch over employees, cameras may be necessary. Cameras provide a constant lookout, and if there’s an injury on the job, a witness. The measures you take to determine the amount of supervision necessary to keep employees safe, are entirely dependent on the workplace.

1. Document everything!

All of these policies and procedures are meaningless if you don’t follow them and document everything. Whether it’s a minor safety infraction, or a major injury, these things need to be in writing. In the event OSHA is investigating an injury, the more you have in writing the less likely you are to be held responsible. Even if an employee is obviously in violation of a clear-cut safety policy, if you failed to document this infraction, or even a previous infraction, you may be found liable and forced to pay. Some workplaces may discourage the reporting of injuries to fudge the numbers and make their workplace appear more safe than it actually is, but this is counter-productive. In the long run, the more you have on file, the less likely you are to be held accountable.



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