Commitment to Worker Safety – Imperative or Personal Choice? | DCR Workforce Blog

Commitment to Worker Safety – Imperative or Personal Choice?

Safety at the Workplace

Occupational Safety and Health Administration has merited a lot of attention under the current administration and it is to be seen if the momentum will be sustained when the new administration takes over. A lot has been achieved, but there is still work ahead, as is usually the case with such initiatives and efforts.

Be that as it may, employers can take over the agenda of OSHA and carry it – to ensure the safety of their workers – by making worker safety their personal choice. OSHA is committed to enabling employers to establish safeguards at their workplaces; based upon the insights gleaned from the workplace incidents tracked by OSHA from the workplace injury and illness logs filed by businesses. We should reiterate here that these will need to be applied equally to permanent workers and contingent labor. In fact, contingent workers need more protection based on how OSHA finds them suddenly being thrown in at the deep end of the pool as they report to work – to work with hazardous materials without the benefit of any training or personal protection equipment – when they are brought on board with pressing production targets due to seasonal spikes in demand or to replace absent workers.

OSHA’s Agenda includes safety for workers who work with hazardous materials:

Exposure to Hazardous Substances: Exposure to substances like silica has been a source of concern for OSHA as between 3,600 to 7,300 new cases of silicosis occur annually in the United States, and only New Jersey and Michigan track new cases. Employers could put in a job-specific plan to identify tasks which expose workers to silica dust and train them on using the personal protective equipment provided. As of now, the permissible limits for silica exposure set by OSHA are yet to be finalized as the industry and employer groups question the need for such control when there is a decline in silica related fatalities. Similar safeguards also need to be put in place for known hazards like combustible dust, Beryllium etc.

Safety at the Workplace: The threats of slipping and falling, and/or working with dangerous machinery or hazardous substances form a part of some jobs. Workplaces need to put in some effort to ensure that no one is at risk of injury. But even the so-called “white collar” jobs, performed in air-conditioned rooms with good lighting and seating, are not devoid of danger. Thousands of such workers also suffer on-the-job injuries which could have been prevented by supervisors, if they only took the time to modify their workplaces or processes a little. Many of these changes can be simple and easy to make, the “low-hanging fruit” which any change initiative can easily access:

  • Common injuries in an office include slips, trips and falls. Workers need to be aware of this threat and workplaces need to be arranged in a manner conducive to avoiding such injuries. Use skid-resistant, non-slippery floors and surfaces. Piled up boxes and other items in walkways, exposed wiring, open desk/file cabinet drawers and piled up rugs and carpets can cause people to trip, and spillages from coffee machines and water dispensers could cause them to slip and fall.
  • Reaching material at a height should be treated as a significant fall hazard and all precautions should be exercised when climbing on a stepladder or reaching for greater heights than its top rung. Climbing on any available chair, which is flimsy or has wheels, should be totally avoided.
  • Avoid having to negotiate blind corners, which do not offer a clear line of vision. If unavoidable, use convex mirrors to show the action around the corner.
  • Avoid the possibility of anyone being struck or caught by an object, which is also a cause of many office injuries.
  • Stacking heavy items too high leads to the risk of serious injuries, should they tip over or get knocked over.
  • Exceeding the specified loading capacity of any equipment should also be avoided at all costs.
  • Use of ergonomic chairs, when workers spend a lot of time sitting, can help avoid posture-related injuries and strain. It is important to provide adjustable equipment, to accommodate the needs of workers, as per their needs. They may also be trained to adjust the equipment to their exact requirements. The costs of not providing such equipment could be expensive in the long run as workers require medical treatment, and companies foot the cost of absenteeism, lost productivity and cost of replacement.
  • Fire is another source of office injuries, and companies need to eliminate the different fire hazards from electricity, space heaters, chemicals, and actual fire by conducting inspections and installing foolproof controls and firefighting equipment and evacuation procedures, in a contingency.

Encourage workers to report any inconvenience, however small, to set processes which ensure that your workplace is safe. It is also important to ensure that workers are not distracted when at work and that they do not work long hours and succumb to fatigue as a result. If workers are pushed to deliver beyond their abilities, they tend to neglect safety and take unnecessary risks in their rush to do better. Ultimately, these are all choices a company makes when it wants a safe workplace.

Please do comment and tell us about the precautions your company is taking to ensure a safe workplace.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.