Workplace safety isn’t just a good idea — it’s mandated by the law. Employees are entitled to work without risk to health, welfare, or safety, and it is largely the responsibility of the employer to alleviate risks and cultivate a safe environment. For most businesses, that means providing thorough training for potentially dangerous equipment, posting signs and sending memos regarding hazardous locations, and providing shelter and refreshment as necessary.
However, safety isn’t always purely physical. Businesses that want to maintain a happy, healthy, and entirely safe workforce must be willing to reconsider what safety means and how they can keep their workers fully safe from all potential threats.
Addressing Physical Safety
Since the early 20th century, organizations have been legally responsible for the safety of their workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states that anyone employed has the right to training and information about workplace hazards and methods to prevent harm. For decades, OSHA has defined standards for safety, health, and overall well-being that all workplaces (save those of the self-employed and a handful of specific environments) must comply with — or else face stiff fines and other penalties. A few physical hazards OSHA mentions include:
- Safety hazards, such as spills or tripping hazards, heights, unguarded machinery and moving parts, electrical components like frayed cords or improper wiring, and confined spaces.
- Biological hazards, such as exposure to blood or bodily fluids, fungi, bacteria and viruses, plants, insects, and animal droppings.
- Chemical hazards, such as liquids, vapors and fumes, gases, flammable materials, and pesticides, especially when any of these are within unlabeled containers or pipes.
- Physical hazards, such as radiation, ultraviolet rays, extreme temperatures, and loud noise.
- Ergonomic hazards, such as repetitive movements, awkward movements or stances, using excessive force, vibration, poor posture, and improperly adjusted workstations.
- Workstation hazards, such as workload demands, intensity or pace, and violence in the workplace.
Ensuring Psychological Safety
Workplace safety doesn’t only impact a worker’s physical health. Creating a safe work environment is vital also because it impacts workers’ emotional well-being. One final type of hazard, called work organization hazards, include psychological stressors that can impact a worker’s productivity and mental state. These include unfair workplace demands, excessive intensity or pace, lack of respect, lack of control, lack of social support, workplace violence, and sexual harassment.
Only relatively recently have some governments begun addressing the need for emotional security in workplaces with legislation. Some workplaces have not waited for legal requirements to institute rules regarding proper behavior, but other workplaces continue to allow their workers to be victims of emotional trauma. There are a few signs that a workplace is not concerned for workers’ psychological safety, including:
- Hypercriticality: reacting harshly to workers’ attempts to improve and succeed.
- Dishonesty or disingenuousness: requesting actions or behavior that isn’t truly valued.
- Lack of commitment to employees: showing employees that they are replaceable.
- Negativity about employees: badmouthing employees in front of others.
- Preoccupation with irrelevant rules: focusing on control to the detriment of productivity.
- Lack of appreciation to employees: believing that hard work is expected, not rewarded.
By now, most everyone has recognized the plague affecting the nation’s workplaces: From Hollywood to small business, people are losing their jobs (and their career prospects) due to inappropriate behavior toward others. Ideally, this scourge will encourage everyone to act with greater kindness and consideration, helping to build more psychologically safe workplaces.
Creating a Safe Environment
It isn’t difficult to create a work environment that is physically and psychologically safe for every employee. In fact, there are only five simple steps to ensuring health, safety, and well-being in all respects:
- Write a safety policy. Businesses should consider local and national safety laws and evaluate their values to develop and distribute a document that explains policies and procedures.
- Establish safety meetings. At regular intervals, businesses should offer meetings that educate employees about written procedures and processes. This should give workers a chance to ask questions and provide suggestions.
- Provide safety equipment. Workplaces should have access to — and training in using — essential safety equipment, such as goggles, hard hats, ventilation, etc.
- Encourage awareness. Employees should be on the lookout for coworkers who are not complying with rules or strangers who may endanger the workplace.
- Obtain total involvement. For safety to be assured, every employee must comply with the rules — management included.