The COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020 has underscored that employers can never be too careful when it comes to the health and safety of their employees, customers, and onsite service providers. COVID-19 is just one example of a biological workplace hazard but is far from the only one today’s employers and employees face.
As a top professional employer organization (PEO) in Kansas City, Axcet HR Solutions works with clients to identify common workplace safety and health hazards and create a plan to minimize them. The first step is to evaluate what hazards employees may face in their workplace. Hazards vary from one industry to another and from one business entity to another.
What Are the Five Main Categories of Workplace Hazards?
Here are the primary hazard categories of on-the-job injury and illness.
Physical: This category is extremely broad, and these hazards can occur due to machines, powered material handling equipment, electrical systems, chemicals, tools, dust, vapors, height, or noise. If the hazard continues unchecked, a worker can experience harm due to ongoing exposure to projectiles, pinching-crushing contact, sound waves, electrical shock-burns, falls, and chemical reactions.
Process: These hazards occur due to facility conditions and poor job setup resulting in ergonomic injuries like sprains, strains, slips, trips, and falls, and cuts.
Behavioral: These are hazards that occur due to what management and workers do or do not do. These hazards often occur due to lack of training, lack of proper accountability, poor safety culture, conflicting business priorities, and lack of safety knowledge or awareness.
Biological: In addition to viruses like COVID-19, biological threats to worker safety can include bacteria, insect or animal bites, and allergic reactions to a wide range of triggers. Biological workplace risks also involve exposure to such things as toxic mold, sewage, harmful plants, and bodily fluid like blood or vomit.
Psychosocial: Workplace violence, threats, intimidation, and sexual harassment are all examples of behaviors that would present a psychosocial risk to employees. Employee mental health struggles can have the same adverse effect on productivity as physical challenges.
Keep in mind that these categories and subcategories do not represent every conceivable workplace hazard. Among the many benefits of risk management consulting is that Axcet HR Solutions often uncovers hazards that employers may have never realized.
Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Expectations for Employers
By congressional act, the federal government has mandated OSHA, an organization under the umbrella of the Department of Labor, to determine what minimum safety standards employers must maintain to keep their employees safe. OSHA’s General Duty Clause states that employers are responsible to provide a work environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm”. To meet this requirement, OSHA requires employers to comply with the standards set in their regulations. These regulations are many and their rules can be very specific as well as very broad in scope.Some states have federal government approval to maintain their own State OSHA plan as long as their standards are at least as stringent as the federal regulations. In OSHA Region 7, which includes Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, only Iowa has a State OSHA plan. The three other states fall under federal regulations.
OSHA encourages all employers to create a written General Health & Safety program to use as a foundation to achieve worker safety. This program should define safety responsibilities and work rules, such as how to address workplace hazards, safety processes, injury and illness reporting, and investigating procedures. OSHA does require written control programs for certain hazards such as excessive noise and exposure to certain respiratory and chemical hazards.
OSHA’s publication on employer responsibilities states that the most successful health and safety programs for employees share three comment elements. These include strong management leadership, worker participation, and using a systemic approach to discovering hazards and then reducing or eliminating them. The list below includes examples of several responsibilities that OSHA places on employers.
Assess workplace for safety & health hazards.
Provide employees with tools and equipment as well as training on how to use them safely in a language they understand.
Warn employees of potential hazards in the workplace with signs, posters, color coding, and labels.
Create standard operating procedures. Employers should inform workers of any changes and updates to the procedures.
Create and implement a written chemical hazard communication policy and provide employees with safety training for all hazards they face in their position.
Post an OSHA poster informing employees of their rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.
Report workplace fatalities to OSHA within eight hours and serious injuries within 24 hours.
Keep records of all employee work-related injuries.
Knowing and abiding by OSHA regulations is essential for both employers and employees. Employers face fines and other penalties for violations of OSHA standards while employees increase the risk of injury or illness when not following established guidelines.
What is Risk Management Consulting?
Also known as workplace safety consulting, risk management consultingis one of several services clients receive when they work with Axcet HR Solutions. Risk management services involve evaluating potential risks to employee health and safety and offering solutions. The review typically involves risk identification, assessment, mitigation, and monitoring as outlined here.
Identify risks involving worker safety and OSHA compliance through safety inspections, review of incident reports, risk audits, and safe design and purchasing habits.
Assess the likelihood and severity of risk, the degree of harm it could cause, and the duration and frequency of employee exposure to the risk.
Control identified risks with elimination through design and substitution of equipment, processes, or materials. This step also includes implementing barriers, controls, and mechanical aids to reduce the likelihood of employee injury or illness. The safety team will implement new procedures, provide updated safety training to employees, recommend specific personal protective equipment (PPE), and suggest administrative changes such as replacing certain work tasks and implementing employee rotation for high-risk positions.
Once a health and safety plan is in place, ongoing monitoring is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of risk mitigation measures. Monitoring also helps to reveal process changes and new hazards that require employee training updates.