One of the most vital concerns for employers is workplace safety. Ideally, workplace safety should not only include precautions to prevent physical injury but also measures to prevent injury to mental health. To this effect, employers must strive to implement policy to make workspaces inclusive, safe, and free of discrimination and harassment. In light of the global pandemic, workplace safety is now more important than ever. As the country slowly kicks back into its job routines, employers must re-evaluate and reinforce workplace safety protocols.
Preventing Physical Injuries
It stands to reason that manual workers employed in logging, refuse collection, agriculture, mechanics, construction, and mining naturally have a higher risk of injury. Contrary to popular belief, however, white-collar workers are not immune to injuries. Repetitive strain injuries like wrist and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, vision problems, and chronic headaches can result from desk-bound jobs, and all of these are more common than one might think.
Employers can do many things to prevent physical injuries, and they are required to under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws. OSHA lays out detailed industry-specific standards and provides recommendations on how to effectively train employees to stay safe. A general guideline to prevent physical injuries includes taking a proactive approach to workplace safety rather than react after the fact.
First, employers must ensure that safety protocols are understood by all employees and enforced by those in charge. All employees should be provided with the safety equipment and training they need, and adequate safety aids should be made accessible. Finally, safety procedures must be regularly inspected and updated to stay current with the contemporary landscape.
In the event of an accident, medical attention should be provided to the employee. Consequently, employers must review policy and instill the appropriate changes to prevent further similar accidents. Obviously, physical workplace injuries are highly dependent on the nature of the industry, so employers must tailor their safety protocols to best manage injury risk as per their specific industry.
Promoting a Culture of Inclusivity
Promoting a workplace culture of inclusivity is essential for making employees feel safe when they come to work. Not only should these ideals underpin workplace operations, but all legal and HR documents should also use inclusive language.
Showing employees that they are protected on paper goes a long way to make everybody feel valued and comfortable at work. Inclusive language may be understood as language that avoids the use of words or expressions that makes certain groups of people feel excluded. As stated by Rider University, “Any person or group can be excluded with language, but typically, this term is used for traditionally underrepresented or underprivileged groups such as racial and ethnic minorities or members of the LGBTQ community. Further, inclusive language is used in order to avoid offending or demeaning people based on stereotypes or personal perceptions.”
Employers don’t often realize that the language used in their documentation leads to employees feeling ostracized. An example of this includes usages of words like “chairman” or “manpower.” These words could lead to a feeling of exclusion based on gender and sexual orientation. More-inclusive alternatives that one might consider using are “chairperson” or “workforce.” It is prudent for employers to look over their HR manuals and internal documents to ensure that inclusive language is being used.
In terms of fostering a general culture of inclusivity and diversity, employers can institute unconscious bias training programs that aim to make employees aware of their own biases. This could include counter stereotype training, implicit-bias workshops, and perspective-taking training. While pulling employees away from work to conduct these sorts of workshops may seem counterproductive, studies show that companies with workplace diversity (in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender) are more likely to have financial returns in excess of industry medians. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that global giant Starbucks closed 8,000 stores in the US so that 175,000 Starbucks partners could learn about racial bias.
Creating a Health and Safety Committee
Establishing a health and safety committee made up of individuals from different levels of an organization can help promote workplace safety. A committee is a great way to provide a platform for various employees to share their innovative ideas on improving health, wellness, and workplace safety. The Marlin Company suggests that committees should “meet at least once a month and keep employees and senior management informed about safety topics, inspections, injury and illness statistics, and other safety-related issues.” Of course, the scope of the committee can be as broad or as narrow as the organization requires, from dealing only with direct safety issues to assisting with general health and wellness concerns. Some ideas for the scope of the health and safety committee include the following:
- Reviewing current safety protocols and updating safety communications
- Sending out a workplace safety newsletter
- Implementing an incentivized health program such as rewarding employees for cycling to work
- Hosting lunchtime health and wellness activities like yoga, meditation, mental health talks, and financial planning seminars
- Representing the interests of employees and communicating these to the relevant management
In light of the pandemic, the committee could also assist in maintaining workplace hygiene and sanitation as well as educate employees about COVID-19. Ensuring hand sanitizer is strategically placed throughout the workplace, providing masks to employees that need them, actively promoting social distancing, and sending email updates and recommendations on how to protect oneself from COVID-19 are all ways to ensure a safe working space.
Workplace safety is instrumental in ensuring a balanced, efficient, and productive work culture. A strong culture of commitment to safety comes from planned awareness and sound communication across the hierarchy of an organization. It is a serious issue that demands immediate attention, especially as the economy slowly reopens in the wake of this pandemic.