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Company leaders have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect employees from harm at work, whether that work involves operating heavy equipment or sitting at a desk. But accidents can still happen in a safe environment if people ignore safety protocols. All employees should take responsibility for safety not just to protect themselves, but also their colleagues. Employees who want to be safe at work must take the effort to fully understand what it means to work safely.
Know and Follow the Rules
The first step to being safe at work is learning the rules. Read the company’s safety procedures. Do not work with any tools or equipment without knowing how to use them safely and don’t let colleagues use them unless they can prove they know how. Office workers must know how to exit work areas quickly and safely in an emergency. Pay attention to exits and the locations of storm shelter areas to know exactly where to go during fire drills and weather emergencies.
Know the Dangers
Get to know all the dangers in your work area. Keep things clean and uncluttered to make hazards more noticeable. If the use of personal safety equipment, or PSE, is required, don’t enter without being properly equipped. PSE can include hardhats, safety vests, safety glasses and other items, depending on the nature of potential hazards. Read the material safety data sheets, or MSDS. These sheets describe the characteristics of any chemicals present, including what dangers they pose and what actions to take when accidents happen. All employers are required to post the MSDS that's applicable to anything employees could come into contact with on the premises.
Actively attend training sessions whenever they're offered. Don't just pretend to listen but pay attention and ask questions. It's important to understand both how to avoid accidents and how to react when or if accidents occur. Participate in safety teams and get involved when procedures are being reviewed. Take advantage of all safety drills including fire drills. These events not only test company processes but also provide opportunities for employees to test their knowledge about what to do in emergency situations.
Report Accidents or Incidents
Know what to do when something happens and do it. Report all accidents according to company procedures. Don’t try to cover up for anyone’s clumsiness. Management needs to be made aware, not because it’s important to punish clumsy workers, but because it’s important to review working conditions and take action if necessary to prevent accidents. What an employee might see as clumsiness could be the fault of the process. Close calls and near misses should also be reported. If an accident is barely avoided once, it might not be avoided later. Reporting close calls can help management take action before someone gets hurt.
- OSHA: Effective Workplace Safety and Health Management Systems
- OSHA: You Have the Right to a Safe Workplace
- Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health (FEOSH) Program: Employee Involvement, Roles and Responsibilities -- Employee Involvement and Empowerment
- OSHA: Employer Responsibilities
- State Compensation Insurance Fund: Employee Safety Responsibilities
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.