It may be a cliche, but the old saying “Safety first!” is still good advice.
Health and safety should always be a top priority, especially in the workplace.
If you’re an employer, the safety of your employees is crucial to the continued operation of your business. An unsafe workplace could result in injury. And, in about 140 cases a year in the United Kingdom, workplace injuries can even be fatal.
The British government (and governments throughout the world) requires employers to follow certain regulations and safety standards to keep their employees safe. But providing for employee safety isn’t just the law. It’s also the right thing to do.
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can prioritize the health and safety of your employees.
Best Practices for a Safe Workplace
Providing a safe and healthy work environment is a complex and multi-faceted issue. First, employers must consider factors that affect physical health. But mental health and occupational health are also important.
It’s important to have a general health and safety policy in place. This will make implementing specific safety guidelines easier. This policy will explain What your organisation sets to achieve to meet legislation and health and safety best practice; Who is responsible for ensuring these objectives are achieved; and How the specific arrangements to ensure good health and safety procedures will work. This part will include everything from asbestos management to fire safety procedures and workplace risk assessment arrangements.
Designate a Health and Safety Appointed Person
When it comes to safety, it’s important to appoint a qualified individual to oversee and manage policies, procedures and ongoing safety training and competence within the workforce. This eliminates confusion and ambiguity about rules and regulations, it ensures compliance with specific legislation that requires employers to appoint competent person(s) for health and safety and provides senior management with reassurance that there is sufficient technical expertise within the business to ensure risks are adequately eliminated or managed.
Have a Written, Enforceable Policy
In order for your managers and others responsible for health and safety to have authority, your company must have a clear policy that they can reference.
Every company should have a written safety policy distributed to all employees. Many companies even have employees sign a document to confirm they’ve read the policy as evidence they have met this specific legal requirement. Such documentary evidence of complying with health and safety requirements is necessary in the event of any criminal or civil litigation that may arise, eg following an accident or an enforcement officer visiting the premises.
Once all employees are aware of the policy, the person(s) responsible for health and safety must have the power to enforce that policy. This includes having the ability to discipline employees who violate health and safety procedures that are contained within the policy.
Take Steps to Ensure Physical Health and Safety
So far, we’ve covered some best practices for implementing safety policies. Next, let’s look at some specific steps workplaces can take to promote health and safety.
Safety precautions vary from workplace to workplace. But there are some common risks that every employer must manage.
Make Sure That Equipment Is In Working Order
In many workplaces, employees regularly work with industrial equipment. If this equipment is not properly maintained, it can endanger the safety of employees.
Consider a kitchen for instance. All cooking appliances, such as stove tops and ovens, should be cleaned on a daily basis. If they are not kept clean, the food residue could cause a grease fire as well as increase the risk of biological hazards and infection to staff and food consumers.
Properly Train All Employees
Another factor that can lead to accidents with equipment is poor training. If employees do not know the proper way to use a piece of equipment, they could injure themselves and others.
Additionally, workplace accidents are made worse because employees don’t know how to respond. This can make a mundane equipment malfunction escalate into an emergency.
Every employee should be trained in both how to safely use equipment, and how to respond if something goes wrong. Note that training of staff is an absolute requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and specifically under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Require Employees to Wear Personal Protective Equipment
It’s important that your employees wear appropriate protective equipment (PPE). For instance, construction workers must wear hard hats, and safety goggles (where relevant) that are suitable for the type of work that is being completed. Different goggles/glasses are needed depending on whether the work involves welding, cutting metals or drilling plastics and concrete materials. Providing a standard set of hard hats and goggles etc is often not sufficient if the equipment is not designed to protect against the type of danger that operatives to which operatives are being exposed.
Sometimes employers assume that only employees working with heavy machinery need protective gear. In reality, there are many industries that should (and indeed do) enforce dress code standards to ensure safety. Where the risks are high, such as where fall arrest equipment is needed to protect a worker, then consequences to the non-conformer in using this equipment need to be severe and include disciplinary action which includes immediate dismissal. The courts’ view is often that it is better to discipline someone than to expose them to risk of death. Remember that the higher the risk, the more an employer is required to do in order to eliminate or mitigate the risk.
For instance, servers at a restaurant should always wear slip-resistant, close-toed shoes. This helps prevent employees from falling. It also protects bare skin from hazards like hot liquids.
Remember The Importance of Mental Health
When it comes to the health and safety of your employees, mental health is just as important as physical safety. In some cases, it can be even more important. Protection of mental health at work is part of the Health and Safety Executives’ (HSE) three year business plan, which is focussing on reducing levels of work-related stress; musculosketal disorders and occupational lung disease.
Here are a few ways to promote the psychological health of your employees.
Provide Diversity and Sensitivity Training to Your Employees
A common factor that can lead to an unsafe workplace is sexual harassment discrimination. This does not only threaten the well-being of your employees. It also inhibits your employees’ productivity.
If one of your employees feels that their voice is not valued, they may refrain from speaking up in meetings. Or, if they are uncomfortable around a particular co-worker, they may avoid interacting with them. This kind of environment is not conducive to work.
To avoid these situations, provide training and coaching sessions that helps your employees learn to make all people feel safe and included. These need not be complex of lengthy and often a series of short and simple coaching and training sessions is more effective than a longer training course. Additionally, make sure that your employees feel safe reporting problematic incidents.
Set Reasonable Expectations for Employees
Another threat to your employees’ mental health is feeling overworked and underappreciated. Giving employees unclear or unrealistic tasks can lead to frustration and mental exhaustion.
Make sure to encourage open and honest communication between managers and employees. If you continue receiving complaints about a particular manager, take those seriously. Managers who are reactionary and explosive can create a hostile work environment.
Promote a Culture of Health and Safety
At the end of the day, health and safety are more than a set of rules. In order to have a truly safe workplace, you must work to weave health and wellness into the culture of your organisation.
One way to do this is by implementing policies that show you care for employee wellness.
For instance, many office workers spend much of their day sitting. This can lead to a variety of health problems. Try to build time into the workday for those employees to walk around and get exercise either by varying their work patterns, or introducing initiatives that encourage a workers to get up and move around during their breaks. This shows concern for their health.
You can also make sure that employees have access to the resources they need to stay healthy. This can be as simple as making sure cool water and good ventilation is available to employees doing manual labour during hot weather or when working in a hot environment.
Additionally, in order for your employees to be healthy, they must get adequate rest. Providing a reasonable holiday policy can help promote the wellness of your employees.
Well-rested employees make fewer mistakes, are more alert and therefore less inclined to have an accident.
Are you looking for more ways to ensure the health and safety of your employees? Then check out our advisor service.
Here at PHSC, our advisors are knowledgeable experts. We will help you meet your legal and ethical obligations as an employer to keep your employees safe.