Workplace safety is about the prevention of serious injuries and fatalities on the job. Organizations that succeed pay strict attention to safety programs for workers. These companies also establish a strong culture where safety is valued at all levels of the company, from the c-suite to the factory floor.
Wise leadership understands that being vigilant about workplace safety not only protects employees, but also generates efficiency and helps the organization grow. Think about it: by lowering costs related to injuries and illness and reducing absenteeism, organizations actually increase productivity and save costs at the same time. Worker morale also goes up because workers who see that their company cares about their health and well-being are more inclined to look out for themselves and others on the job. There will be less turnover, less disruption, and greater productivity.
Who Looks Out for Workers
There are many organizations tasked with protecting worker rights as well as their health and safety. These include:
The Bureau of International Labor Affairs. This government organization represents the U.S. before the UN’s International Labor Organization and participates in international and regional assemblies that address workers' rights issues, such as the G-20, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Inter-American Conference of Ministries of Labor, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The organization is also involved in the development and implementation of U.S. policy related to workers' rights issues in multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements.
The International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO operates as an agency of the United Nations. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it creates labor standards for UN member countries that aim to protect workers’ dignity and security.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH is a joint federal agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is tasked with conducting research and producing reports that address workplace injury and illness.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Labor that creates working standards and enforces compliance related to safe and healthy working conditions in the private sector.
American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI, while not a standards developing organization, is a private non-profit that coordinates and applies U.S. voluntary standards and conformity assessment systems.
United States Department of Labor. The US. Department of Labor oversees a number of agencies that work towards protecting the rights and safety of workers and improving working conditions.
There are also numerous organizations tasked with protecting worker health and safety for industries that pose a high risk of exposure to workers. They include the National Fire Protection Association, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the American Society of Safety Professionals.
Injuries on the Job
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2018, the most recent reporting year. That total is unchanged from 2017.
There were 900,380 injuries or illnesses that caused a worker to miss at least one day of work in 2018, also unchanged from 2017. Sprains, strains, and tears accounted for 45,340, or 36 percent, of the days away from work (DAFW) cases in 2018. The DAFW incidence rate for sprains, strains, and tears was 38.4 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, essentially the same as in 2017. Injuries to the back represented 17 percent, or 21,320, of DAFW cases.
OSHA reports a total of 5,250 fatal injuries in 2018. The majority of fatalities (2,080) came from transportation incidents, followed by violence by persons or animals (828), falls, slips, or trips (791), contact with objects and equipment (786), exposure to harmful substances or environments (621), and fires and explosions (115).
By industry, the majority of fatalities took place in service-providing industries (2,724) like transportation and utilities (1,379). The second highest sector was goods-producing industries (2,055), particularly natural resources and mining (704). Construction accounted for 1,008 fatalities, manufacturing 343 fatalities, wholesale trade 202, retail trade 274, financial activities 108 and real estate, and rental/leasing 78 injuries, among others.
How to Prevent Injuries at Work
The best way to prevent injuries at work, according to OSHA, is to launch an injury and illness prevention program that fixes hazards before they take place. These prevention-focused programs research gaps in systems and processes where exposure to risk is likely. It then suggests ways organizations can change behavior or the systems and processes themselves to create a safer environment.
Because strains, sprains, and tears represent such a significant cause of injuries on the job, organizations can start ergonomics programs to help correct how workers use their back and to protect them from soft tissue injuries.
Leadership and front-line supervisors can also receive better training that alerts them to how to communicate safety in both their words and actions. This helps cultivate a safety culture among all employees, no matter their position or stature within the company.
Provide personal protection equipment (PPE). PPE is essential for all frontline workers, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership should make sure all workers receive worker safety gear including safety shields, hard hats, earplugs, goggles, and other safety protective equipment at work depending on the position.
Increase training and inspections. Make sure all your physical assets like vehicles and belts are properly maintained often. Repair breakdowns immediately. Do not take shortcuts in keeping equipment safe and current. Make sure training is companywide, current, and veteran workers are refreshed on best safety practices.