Only by eating, breathing and essentially living safety do organizations truly cut down their chances of hazardous incidents. At the company my wife and I founded, our entire industry is heavily involved in workplace safety and these are the four most important pieces of advice I've learned over the past several years of helping small businesses increase their safety.
1. Leading by example is everything.
Imagine being lectured by a person for 20 minutes about the importance of wearing safety glasses when doing a particular activity and then seeing the lecturer later that day doing that very activity without safety glasses. (This is a real life example, by the way.)
It happens quite a lot in small business. Generally, someone starts a business doing something they know well and even though they don't perform a given duty as safely as possible, they've been doing it the same way for a long time without incident.
But, they believe younger workers should be taught to do it the safest way for their own good and the good of the company. The problem with this is that when the younger workers see the boss doing something in an unsafe manner, they tend to copy what they see rather than following what they've been told to do.
If you want safety to be a core principle of your business, everyone must be on board from the top down.
2. It starts with hiring.
Imagine if you knew ahead of time that someone was let go from their previous job because they were intoxicated at work or they had physically abused a co-worker. If you perform due diligence for everything else in your business, why not for who you hire, too? Hiring the wrong person puts the rest of your staff at risk along with your equipment and other assets and your business itself.
Know who you're hiring so you're not caught off guard. Fortunately, it seems like most employers are doing this, with one survey conducted by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners saying out of the over 1,500 human resources personnel asked, 96 percent said they conduct at least some kind of background check and they listed safety as their top reason for doing so. Many companies also conduct drug screening as part of their safety efforts.
3. Healthy, rested employees are safer.
Tired workers have become such a problem that the National Safety Council now has a Workplace Fatigue Conference to help combat it. The organization notes that:
Safety performance decreases as employees become tired
Fatigued workers cost employers $1,200 to $3,100 annually per employee
Fatigued driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated,
Lack of sleep leads to health risks including obesity and cardiovascular disease,
Fatigue at work costs employers an estimated $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity
With all the negativity connected to lack of sleep, it obviously pays to invest some time and effort into making sure employees are rested. We've seen cases where business owners are sure there is a drug problem in the workplace only to discover that employees just aren't getting enough sleep and it's affecting their work.
Having a wellness program that addresses health -- including getting enough restful sleep -- can help keep your workplace safer by keeping people more alert.
Each month we have a fitness challenge where team members create different teams and try different challenges using their company provided fitbits like distance walking, sleeping better, etc. It is amazing what a little fun challenge can do to improve health. One year in our "biggest loser" contest we had a team member who lost over 80 pounds in six months. Her energy levels increased exponentially.
4. Let employees know what is expected of them and train them for it.
The more people know about a job they are applying for, the better prepared they'll be for the rigors of the position. You should include the maximum weight they would be required to lift, the maximum time they would be standing or sitting, the maximum distance they'd be walking, etc. Only by seeing these potentially maximum numbers can people decide whether they could really do all that the position is asking of them.
Once you have hired someone, they need to be trained, not just oriented. Even things like carrying heavy loads or sitting and typing for hours may require training if a person has never done it before or does it in a way that could be harmful to them.