Hazards in the workplace can be a source of extensive cost and trouble to your company. An unsafe workplace contributes to high employee turnover, lessened productivity, potential lawsuits by injured employees and government investigation for violation of health and safety laws. While making the necessary changes to comply with safety regulations can seem expensive at the outset, in the long run it is vital to the success of your business.
Who Is Affected?
Health and safety laws affect companies’ operations that impact employees, customers and the general public. In addition to general provisions, if your business involves particularly risky activity, you may be required to comply with practice-specific rules. For example, manufacturers may need to comply with certain rules as to the use of energy, disposal of waste material and emissions control. State agencies can provide the specific guidelines for your type of industry; guides and advisories are also available from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Generally, safety laws require businesses to use safe equipment and to implement safe work practices. A good step toward compliance is to identify potential hazards and eliminate foreseeable risks. For any business, this means inspecting and maintaining electrical systems, having working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and keeping the premises in general good repair. For example, improperly maintained floors are a frequent source of injuries that often lead to lawsuits from employees as well as customers or contractors.
A company that uses specialized, potentially hazardous equipment is required to take precautions to minimize risks. For example, a food service company where workers are operating cooking equipment should learn the proper maintenance routine for each item and follow it. There is never a complete guarantee of safety; however, following and documenting proper upkeep of systems, machinery and other equipment cuts down on injuries. In the event that an injury occurs anyway, showing that proper precautions were scrupulously observed will be an important factor in the company’s favor. Sometimes this will mean expensive repairs or replacements, but this is not an area where employers can afford to skimp. Being penny wise but pound foolish when it comes to safety is a recipe for eventual disaster.
Another potential source of risk is the use of chemicals. It is recommended that businesses cut down on the use of toxic substances as far as possible. In some cases, this does not present a significant hardship. For instance, an office may switch its cleaning products without significant loss or disruption. On the other hand, some businesses will require handling and exposure to dangerous chemicals that cannot be avoided. In these cases, OSHA requires employers to disclose specific information to their workers, including the amounts and nature of the exposure, as well as potential consequences. Depending on the type of substance and potential contact, there may also be federally mandated exposure limits. Employers must also put in place handling procedures to minimize risks.
Employee training is an important part of maintaining proper workplace safety. Employers should devise and implement safety protocols that address the nature of the workplace’s activities and their attendant risks. For office workers, this may mean a fire evacuation plan. Workers in food service, construction or manufacturing will also need to be properly trained in equipment operation and maintenance, as well as in-job site safety. Health workers need to have protocols for guarding against the spread of infection. One size never fits all when it comes to occupational safety, so employers should consult the guidelines for their specific industry and hazards.
By law, employers have a duty to protect against reasonable hazards to workers, customers and the public. The standard of what is reasonable is informed by state and federal guidelines such as those promulgated by OSHA; however, keep in mind that simply following guides may not be enough if doing so does not address particular known risks in your workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace contributes to productivity and employee satisfaction and builds a solid foundation for your company’s success.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.