Small and mid-sized business owners have legal, ethical and common-sense obligations to maintain safe work environments. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide a workplace free of known health and safety hazards. Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act – the law that OSHA enforces – employers must meet industry-specific standards, as well as identify and rectify unsafe workplace conditions, post safety-related signage and maintain accurate records regarding work-related injuries and illnesses.
OSHA further stipulates that employers must:
- Provide employees with safe tools and properly maintain all equipment;
- Take steps to reduce safety hazards in the workplace;
- Inform employees if they are working with hazardous materials; and
- Give employees any special gear or training necessary to safely perform their jobs.
Employers also have to comply with the hundreds of OSHA safety regulations that may apply to them. OSHA guidelines cover such practices as:
- The storage of hazardous materials;
- Emergency evacuation plans in the event of a fire or other emergency;
- Protective gear, such as safety goggles and clothing;
- First aid and onsite medical treatment;
- Equipment maintenance; and
- Prevention of falls and other accidents for those who work at elevated heights.
Some state workplace safety laws are even more stringent than the federal standards are, so employers should familiarize themselves and comply with those laws, too.
The precise measures employers take to ensure safe working conditions depend on the type of business they conduct and what injuries are most likely to occur. For example, a construction company owner may need to provide employees with hard hats and other protective gear, take steps to prevent falls from scaffolding and train employees on the safe use of power tools. In an office setting, employers may need to establish an emergency evacuation plan and provide ergonomic work stations.
It’s the employer’s responsibility to assess workplaces and rid them of known risks to employee safety. Establishing systems and protocols help employers maintain both legal compliance and hazard-free work environments.
Successful safety and health programs require:
- Employee and management buy-in;
- A system to identify and control hazards;
- Ongoing review of OSHA regulations;
- Mutual respect and open communication;
- Training on safe work practices; and
- Continuous improvement.
Regular workplace safety assessments, effective employee training, responsible employee behaviors and well-maintained equipment are the cornerstones of a safe workplace.
A safe and healthy workplace protects workers from injury and illness; lowers related costs; reduces absenteeism and turnover; increases productivity and quality; and improves employee morale. In other words, what’s good for safety is also good for business.