Maintaining a clean workplace safety record in your business is no accident. It takes both clear safety procedures and planned remediation strategies for destructive events beyond your control. Even if nothing bad happens, employees will know you care about their welfare. And you can enjoy some peace of mind. But where do you start?
Workplace safety begins with an inventory of the hazards your business faces – starting with risks for injuries to employees – to build a plan around. Physical hazards for manufacturing operations or others involving the use of machinery and power tools are straightforward. If you have such a business, chances are you’re already familiar with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules specific to your business that address particular hazards.
But every business can be the scene of a workplace injury or medical crisis, including ones involving your customers. It could be a slip-and-fall, or a sudden health emergency such as a heart attack or stroke. And then there are the risks of a fire, gas leak, electrical shock, and so on.
Plan to Save Lives
You’ve also got weather-related events to consider. Do you operate in a hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake zone? Keep them in mind. How about an extended power outage? And while the odds are surely extremely thin, you can’t ignore the possibility of an active shooter on your premises. Planning for that could save lives.
The mission of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to prepare the public for nearly every kind of physical calamity, from active shooters to wildfires. This page on its website catalogs some 30 hazards (not limited to worksites) and offers response plans for each.
Much thinking about such contingencies, and how to make a plan to deal with them, has also already been done for you by OSHA. And be aware that making a contingency plan probably isn’t even optional for you. “Almost every business is required to have an emergency action plan” (EAP) to foster workplace safety, according to OSHA. You can use an OSHA online tool to determine whether you’re one of those businesses. But even if you aren’t, it’s a good idea to have one anyway. Plus, it might be required by your property-casualty insurance carrier. If it’s not, it will at least make them happier to do business with you.
Mandatory Emergency Action Plan
An OSHA-mandated EAP needs to include procedures for the following areas:
- Reporting a fire or other emergency
- Emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments
- For employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
- Accounting for all employees after evacuation
- To be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties
The EAP also needs to include the name and job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan.
Under OSHA rules, if you have at least 10 employees, the plan needs to be in writing. Otherwise, it can be delivered orally. In either case, it needs to be presented to all employees. But since you’ll need to write it up to create the EAP (unless you can keep it all straight in your head), you’d might as well give employees a hard copy version even if not required to do so. They can refer to it when needed.
OSHA’s mandated workplace safety plan (classified as Standard 1910.38, should you want more detail) also requires you to designate and train employees to help evacuate other employees in an emergency, as well as any other specific tasks you might decide to assign them. You’ll also need to establish a communication system, possibly including an alarm, so that everybody will know what’s happening and what they need to do.
One way to ensure that employees know what’s in your safety plan is to involve some or all of them in creating it in the first place. They may be better acquainted with some potential safety issues and ways to address them, than you. Depending on the size of your staff, creating a safety committee could formalize the process.
Keep Your Emergency Plan Current
Your safety needs and the best ways to address them can evolve over time. That means you’ll need to revisit your EAP periodically to ensure that it’s up to date. Similarly, as you bring new employees on board, include presenting your EAP to them as part of their orientation process.
There’s more to workplace safety than following OSHA standards. For example, employees’ health—mental and physical—often play a role in workplace accidents. Government agencies do set standards for the maximum shift for employees with certain kinds of jobs, like truck drivers and airplane pilots. Otherwise, the only rule you have to follow is paying overtime for wage-based employees whose average weekly hours worked exceeds 40.
Naturally, physical fatigue can lead to serious accidents. But so too can employee job burnout. Among other effects, it can lead to increased mental distance from one’s job, according to the World Health Organization, not to mention serious health consequences. Being on the lookout for signs of employee burnout and confronting the sources of the problem can be an integral part of a workplace safety program.
Focusing excessively on every conceivable workplace safety risk could cause you to burn out, too. Avoid that by acting proactively to assess your risks and minimize them, then move on with the business of running your business.