Workplace safety is about preventing injury and illness to employees in the workplace. Therefore, it’s about protecting the public entity’s most valuable asset: its workers. By protecting the employees’ well-being, the entity reduces the amount of money paid out in health insurance benefits, workers’ compensation benefits and the cost of wages for temporary help. Also factor in saving the cost of lost-work hours (days away from work or restricted hours or job transfer), time spent in orienting temporary help, and the programs and services that may suffer due to fewer employees, stress on those employees who are picking up the absent workers’ share or, worse case, having to suspend or shut down a program due to lack of personnel.
To make the workplace safer, the entity has to acknowledge which potential health and safety hazards are present. Or determine where and what and how a worker is likely to become injured or ill. It starts with analyzing individual workstations and worksites for hazards—the potential for harm—be it a frayed electrical cord, repetitive motion, toxic chemicals, mold, lead paint or lifting heavy objects.
OSHA describes a job hazard analysis as a technique that focuses on job tasks to identify hazards before they occur. The Nonprofit Risk Management Center thinks of it as looking at the parts to strengthen the whole. From either view, the analysis examines the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools and the work environment.
Depending on the nature of the entity (i.e., parks and recreation department, public works department, public healthcare facility), senior management may have to help workers manage specific hazards associated with their tasks:
Any policy, procedure or training used by the public entity to further the safety of employees while working for the entity is considered part of a workplace safety program. Workplace safety programs to reduce work-related injury and illness are concerned with:
According to OSHA, work-related injury and illness prevention falls into three categories in order of priority: engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment controls.
Workplace safety initiatives can be as simple as closing and locking the door; replacing burned out lights inside and out; closing drawers before walking away from the desk or file cabinet; knowing and using proper lifting techniques; providing adjustable workstations to accommodate differences in people’s stature and weight to eliminate repetitive motion, back, neck and shoulder injury; and using the proper tool for the job in an appropriate fashion. These and other basics should be universally adopted safety procedures in any workplace.
Workplace safety programs are important to all public entities no matter how few or many employees they have. Remember: employees and are an entity’s most important asset.
Public entity employee’s’ health and safety are affected not only by their own actions but by those of their co-workers. Senior management must help employees manage hazards associated with their work (tasks or responsibilities). They also need to make certain employees are fit for work. Fitness for work involves drug and alcohol issues, physical and emotional well-being, fatigue, and stress.
People need to be engaged with the creation and implementation of the safety program for it to succeed. For example, the public entity is responsible for supplying employees with appropriate safety equipment, but workers are responsible for wearing it at the right times and places. The entity should provide employees with training to help them carry out their assignments, but these workers are responsible for attending this training, asking questions and telling supervisors if they do not understand what is being explained. This may require staff members to act assertively—to speak up for themselves—and say: ‘I do not understand how to use these, could you please show me.’ Senior staff are instrumental in encouraging and supporting such behavior.
In safety and health, continuous improvement involves seeking better ways to work, measuring performance and reporting against set targets. It is also about systematically evaluating compliance with procedures, standards and regulations; understanding the causes of incidents and injuries; and openly acknowledging and promptly correcting any deficiencies.
Performance can be measured by:
Toward Incident and Injury Free, WMC Limited Safety and Health Report 2000