Small Business Brief

Safety & Loss Prevention

A Business Owner’s Guide to Creating a Safety Program

Safety should be your number one priority as a business leader, not just for your customers, but for your employees as well. In this guide, we are going to walk you through the steps of creating a workplace safety program so that your staff and your customers are safe at all times.

In the U.S. there are approximately 14 work-related deaths per day. This is according to the latest available figures (2016). That’s right, every week, nearly 100 people lose their lives due to work.

Additionally, in the last available yearly figures, 1.2 million workers missed an average of 8 days of work due to work-related injuries. The economic losses of a death or injury at work are large.

Serious work-related injuries cost U.S. employers more than $1 billion a week. This figure comes from the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

An effective workplace safety program can have a real impact on your bottom line. Read on to learn the who, what and how of workplace safety.

A Safe Workplace Is a Shared Responsibility

These astonishing statistics point to the employer’s responsibility for a safe workplace. Create a well-documented and structured safety program to keep your workplace hazard-free.

Beyond legal and insurance requirements, your safety program exists to protect your most valuable resource, your employees. Your program should identify, evaluate and limit hazards.

Employees must be cognizant of, understand and share responsibility for safety.

Train employees to identify danger and suggest corrections. Follow through as necessary.

Written rules, procedures and guidelines are only effective if followed.

Start Your Safety Program

Small businesses often skip the complexities of a formal safety program. However, protecting people and the organization soon becomes critical. This is true as the business grows beyond a handful of people.

Beyond that, a business needs a documented safety program for legal reasons. Even the smallest amount of cleaning chemical or simple machinery is possibly hazardous. A hazard mitigation plan in place goes a long way in protecting your business.

There are several mandatory posters and signs provided free by OSHA and other government agencies. Use them. Other references are free online.

Where to Begin

Start by putting a safety officer in charge. This could be yourself or someone you appoint. Your safety officer has the responsibility and legal accountability for a hazard-free and safe workplace.

The safety officer ensures worker compliance with company policy and government regulations.

This could include safety meetings, inspections, training, and reports. These responsibilities are a documented part of the employee’s job description.

Give the safety officer the supervisory power to make changes as necessary. Your safety officer should be part of the management/leadership team. Give your safety officer regular training and performance review as part of their job.

Conduct Regular Safety Inspections

This can be as simple as a daily or weekly checklist. Ensure that fire exits are clear, remove slip hazards and complete maintenance. There are several online references if you need samples.

A more detailed hazard analysis should look at bigger processes and hazards. Use quarterly and semi-annual inspections to give a closer look at larger issues. Workplace conditions such as lighting, seating, and ergonomics should get an examination.

Signs, labels, and tags are part of any safe workplace. Some, like exit signs, are legally required. Make sure they are correct and present. Non-slip footing and fall prevention are also important.

Inspections should look at physical conditions and employee practice. Speak with line employees, maintenance and facility workers and management to check understanding.

Look for Safe Procedures

For some workplaces, personal protective equipment use is a priority. Regularly check the condition of the protective equipment and its use. For example, safety goggles are not of much use if worn as a headband.

Employee requirements like non-slip footwear, long sleeves worn down or hearing protection must be checked frequently. They are often forgotten until there is an incident. At that point, it is too late.

Chemical use and storage procedures are a priority in many workplaces. Locate and retain all Material Safety Data Sheets. Make sure employees use the correct procedure to read, understand and use chemicals. Even cleaning chemicals and hand soap have certain interactions and warnings.

One of the most critical procedures to understand is lockout/tagout. It is used to prevent the start or use of any machinery while a person can be harmed. Proper use and respect of the warning signs save lives.

Any time you have new facilities, procedures or equipment, conduct a thorough review. Small changes in materials or process can have unforeseen effects on safety.

Investigate Safety Incidents

Who, what, where, when, why and how are the traditional news reporter’s questions. They are also important to any safety investigation. Report and investigate any incident within 24 hours.

The law requires an incident report for every accident, injury or illness in the workplace. This is whether or not it requires outside intervention or is during work hours. The safety officer has certain reporting requirements by law.

The investigation process allows you to dissect the issues. Even the most minor incidents can establish trends. From there you can make safety improvements.

Document all safety improvements. Specialized software designed for OSHA safety requirements, like JSABuilder can be helpful.

Establish Employee Ownership of Safety

Your safety officer does not work alone. Establish a safety committee to represent all workers.

Include management, front-line workers and maintenance employees in your safety committee.

Your safety committee oversees the entire safety process. Empower them to inspect the workplace. Make them accountable to investigate accidents, propose workplace changes and enforce standards.

Representation of all workers is the key to success. All employees should feel responsible and accountable for their own safety. All workers should feel empowered to do what is necessary to keep their workplace hazards to a minimum.

Safety Committee Responsibilities

Service on the safety committee does not need to be part of the formal employee job description. The committee should meet as necessary (at least once a year.) Their function is as follows:

  • Eliminate workplace hazards
  • Propose policies and procedures
  • Enforce policies and procedures
  • Investigate incidents
  • Resolve problems
  • Maintain safety records

They should inspect all workspaces. They should confidentially discuss unsafe work practices and hazardous conditions with workers. The safety committee should create its own policy and procedure for inspections.

The safety committee reviews incident reports and reviews them for trends. It proposes any necessary changes to procedures. If there are conflicts in enforcement, the safety committee handles the correction.

Make Safety Training Mandatory

Train all employees about a safe workplace from the very beginning. In fact, you should document safety training in every new employee orientation. In addition, consider a regular post-hire follow-up.

Introduce the employee’s responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others. Explain safety policies and procedures. Make clear their part in maintaining a safe work environment.

This training should include responsibility for identifying unsafe work conditions. It should also include the process of reporting any hazards to management and the safety committee. Also, to report all hazards, illness or injury to management.

Special Note for Hazardous Work

For any workers exposed to special circumstances, review the use of personal protective equipment. If protective equipment is required, provide it and keep it in good condition. Train any employees who work with hazardous chemicals on their proper handling, storage, and use.

Hazardous machinery or equipment such as forklifts requires proper training and documentation. Employees must read and understand labels and signs. Very important is the procedure to lockout/tagout equipment while it is under service or in use.

Train or re-train to introduce new processes, equipment or procedures. This must be done with every change in personnel or materials. Even something as simple as a formula change in hand soap can have very different effects.

Safety Program Must Be a Management Priority

Top management buy in and support is key to the success of any safety program. Even with safety committee representation, employees may not buy-in. They are only as committed as management shows them.

Top management must give safety priority throughout the organization. The more vocal management is in demonstrating workplace safety, the more successful the program is. Support must be sincere and team-oriented.

Offer incentives for a hazard-free workplace. Be careful of incentive programs that focus on incident reporting, this can encourage under-reporting of accidents and injuries. False economy in safety reporting can result in more costly future incidents.

Benefits of a Workplace Safety Program

An effective safety program not only benefits employees but also helps the company. Benefits include:

  • Reduced number of workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Reduced severity of workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Improved employee morale
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced workers’ compensation costs

A safe and hazard-free workplace is not only a moral imperative for employers but a financial one too. The cost of not thinking about safety can be immense. Think of employee morale, worker’s compensation insurance, possible injuries or death.

Make an investment in your employees and business. Make safety part of your company culture. A safe workplace, positive coaching, and caring are part of a healthy organization.

For more helpful tips on Employer Liabilities, Employee Wellness Programs or Improving Your Health at Work read on. Our blog has a range of helpful business topics to grow your organization.