How safe is your work environment?

How safe is your work environment? Share this article

With National Safety Month well underway, we're taking a closer look at some of the best ways to stay safe – and, for business owners and leaders, to keep their employees safe. In this blog article, we're going to focus on one of the most important factors when it comes to employee safety: the work environment itself. There are several serious issues here that need to be taken into account, and there's no better time than National Safety Month to step back and make sure your work environment is as safe as can be.

Defining terms
First things first: What is a work environment? 

It may seem obvious, but it's worth pointing out that "work environment" is a broader term than many people realize. It doesn't just encompass any part of the building where you may or must go while on the job.

Take, for example, a hostess at a restaurant. Odds are she'll spend the vast majority of her time out front or in the dining area. However, it's also likely that she'll pop into the kitchen now and again. That makes the kitchen part of her work environment, and that means her safety in the kitchen needs to be taken into consideration. 

Whatever their positions, they all share the same work environment.Whatever their positions, they all share the same work environment.

Subtle dangers
The next thing to keep in mind when evaluating the safety of a work environment is that not every danger is obvious. In fact, it's the subtle risks that you really need to pay attention to. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Organization, a part of the Department of Labor, classifies work organization hazards under five categories. Some of these are obvious – "Chemical," "Biological" and "Physical Hazards," for example. But OSHA listed "Safety Hazards" first on its list, explaining "These are the most common and will be present in most workplaces at one time or another." The leading example OSHA provided of such hazards were spills on floors.

That's worth reiterating. In a document identifying work hazards, the experts at OSHA didn't focus on the dangers presented by power tools or fires or asbestos – they highlighted slippery floors. It's not enough to worry about the obvious threats when evaluating your work environment – you need to consider less apparent, but just as serious, dangers such as slippery floors. Again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed throughout the whole work environment.

Perspective needed
When determining how safe your work environment is, you also need to think about your perspective.

One of the biggest risks in this area is the possibility that you'll overlook dangers because you've gotten too familiar with them. Over time, things that are actually risky may seem less serious than they really are simply because you and your employees are so practiced at navigating these environments. 

To avoid such oversights, it's important to occasionally step back and view your work environment from a fresh perspective. It may even be a good idea to bring in an outsider to offer her analysis. That will deliver a more objective view, which can then lead to safety improvement efforts.

"Occasionally step back and view your work environment from a fresh perspective."

Policies and approaches
On that last point: Once you've evaluated the safety of your work environment, it's time to embrace strategies that will help keep your employees safe.

In some cases, this may require significant infrastructure work or equipment replacements. In others, though, the most effective steps will be implementing policies that encourage workers to utilize safety gear, such as slip-resistant shoes. After all, slippery floors are among the biggest work environment dangers, and there's only so much you can do to avoid those conditions in restaurants, hospitals, grocery stores and the like. However, requiring all employees to wear slip-resistant shoes can significantly reduce the workplace danger that those conditions present.

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