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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers report 3 million nonfatal workplace accidents every year. These accidents can cost employers dearly due to lawsuits, worker's comp claims, increases in liability insurance premiums and the costs of replacing sick employees or covering for employees whose injuries mandate missing work. While preventing workplace accidents can take a bit of extra planning -- and may require some money -- it can save your business in the long run.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
A risk assessment can help you determine risks specific to your business. A security guard who drives a bank truck, for example, faces risks much different than those a construction worker encounters. Review your workplace's previous history of injuries by perusing worker's comp claims, accident reports and lawsuits. Then evaluate your workplace for additional sources of danger to devise a master list of risks. Finally, devise a plan that specifically targets these risks, and involve employees in the planning.
Don't Rush or Overwork Employees
Rushing through a job can be dangerous in almost any workplace. An office worker who feels rushed is more likely to slip on a slippery floor, while a construction worker may drop heavy materials or forget to secure a structure. Set reasonable timelines for projects, and instruct workers to prioritize safety above all else. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long hours and night shifts are both correlated with an increased risk of injuries. Rather than mandating overtime, consider hiring additional staff, and minimize the amount of time workers spend on third shifts.
Follow Industry Norms and Regulations
Many industries must follow specific safety protocols. Instruct employees on these protocols, and ensure they follow them every time. For example, food service workers must avoid cross-contamination by washing their hands when they switch from working with raw meat to another food. Read trade magazines in your industry for safety tips, and consider visiting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website, which may offer safety tips specific to your industry.
Test Safety Equipment
The equipment that keeps your employees safe, such as panic alarms, smoke detectors, helmets and similar gear, can malfunction, leading to injuries. Check this equipment regularly, and upgrade to new equipment when older equipment begins to fail. When employees have accidents, evaluate how well their safety equipment worked, and if the equipment doesn't mitigate the effects of the accident, try upgrading or switching to a different brand.
Monitor and Secure Dangerous Items
Every workplace has its own set of risks. In a chemistry lab, flammable chemicals can erupt into flames, while a malfunctioning refrigerator door could lock food service workers into a walk-in refrigerator. Review your risk assessment for a list of potential hazards, and secure these hazardous items. Check them daily to ensure they're properly secured, and don't allow workers to work with a potential hazard that is not functioning properly, such as a chainsaw that keeps breaking.
- United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Work Schedules -- Shift Work and Long Hours
- Arbill: 5 Best Practices to Prevent Workplace Accidents
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work: Reducing Workplace Accidents -- Advice for Employers
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.