Workplace Safety and Health

Giving priority to workplace safety can save costs in terms of lost working hours, high medical expenses, increased insurance premiums and expensive legal suits.

Employee safety and health are a requirement of employment laws. One such laws is OSHA, or the occupational safety and health act.

As an employer, you are required, as far as it is practicable, to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment.

Under certain working environment, workplace safety is strictly enforced such as in industries involved in hazardous activities or high risk working areas.

For example, factories are subject to this strict requirement of safety.

Another example is a confined working space such as in the hold of a ship or fighter jets landing area in aircraft carriers.

There is zero tolerance for any possibility of risk.

Safety and health are regulated by various laws enacted by federal or state legislatures and as interpreted by the law courts.

These matters are some of the concerns of employees and unions. Thus, the importance of taking safety matters into consideration under your industrial relations policy.

Safety and health are so important that every employees including newly-employed workers need to know the requirements of the relevant laws.

5 S Housekeeping Practices
These housekeeping practices, popularized by the Japanese, can help your organization to effectively implement workplace safety and health. It can help to reduce risk and incidence of accidents.

5S Practices consist of the following:

  1. Seiri, that is, keep what is needed and throw away what is not needed ("Sort")
  2. Seiton, that is, assigning a proper place for every item as a way of organizing them ("Set in order")
  3. Seiso, that is, clean and maintain ("Shine")
  4. Seiketsu, meaning "establishing the right method to ensure continuity" ("Standardize")
  5. Shitsuke that means "maintaining the new way of doing things" ("Sustain")

With the support of the "Kaizen" philosophy that means "continuous improvement," the 5S Practices can help your organization to continuously improve its workplace safety and health.

Remember that the real purpose of implementing 5 S is to truly improve safety and health standards at the workplace. If you are not careful, this can lead to the unhealthy practice of only putting up labels.

Enforcement of Workplace Safety and Health
Countries' safety and health legislation is intended to ensure that healthy and safe working conditions are in place. There are also bodies that enforce the relevant laws.

Success in enforcing these rules depends on the support by all levels of employees, from the lowest level of workers to members of senior management team.

Ensure that your Safety and Health Policy is submitted to the board for endorsement before implementation. This sends the signal that workplace safety and health are everyone's concern including members of the board.

The regulations usually specify the types of industries covered and the conditions that require implementation of this policy. Some of the important matters required under these regulations include:

  • Establishment of safety committees or work groups. A safety committee is a joint employer-employee committee responsible for health and safety matters.
  • Appointment of health and safety representatives. In certain cases, the representatives are elected.
  • Recruitment of adequate number of qualified safety officers
  • Formulation and or review of health and safety procedures
  • Other relevant safety and health matters

It is a good human resource policy to consider implementing safety and health rules and procedures even if the legislation appears as not being relevant your organization. Employment law provisions may actually apply so you need to check.

Functions of Committees and Representatives
Some of the functions are as follows:

  1. Health and Safety Representative
    • To inspect workplace to ensure that there is a safe and healthy working environment
    • To issue notices on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) improvements after holding consultations with all parties concerned
    • To participate, with the consent of the employer, in interviews concerning OHS matters
  2. Occupational Health and Safety Committees
    • Responsible for OHS policies and procedures, their formulation and reviews
    • To review measures taken to make the workplace healthy and safe
    • To report any unsafe situation
    • To resolve health and safety problems as soon as they crop up
    • To monitor whether safety procedures are followed and that safety equipments and protective clothing are properly kept and maintained in good working order

Training in all Aspects of Workplace Safety
All managers are responsible for the implementation of health and safety programs. It follows that they are also responsible for ensuring that required training in health and safety is provided.

It is not enough that your organization has appointed safety officers or safety specialists.

Successful Implementation of Workplace Safety
Successful implementation of health and safety programs depends on a number of factors.

  1. Commitment from everyone is necessary
  2. Ensure that you make visitors fully aware of the health and safety requirements of your organization
  3. Make safety and health as part of the induction program that includes safety culture, safety systems implementation and the appropriate use and safe use of equipments, materials, etc.
  4. At the same time, it can lead to a number of positive outcomes.

  5. Cost-savings in terms of reduction in lost working hours due to injuries, medical costs, high insurance premium, and so on
  6. Promotion and acceptance of health and safety measures has correlation to productivity improvement

It is now accepted that the post 9/11 situation had heightened the requirement for the safety of people, properties and so on.

Workplace Safety Incidence
Awareness of such safety incidences is crucial to effectively implementation of health and safety programs in the workplace.

Take note of such matters as:

  • diseases such as Aids, hepatitis
  • economy class syndrome affecting employees required to make frequent travel by air
  • sexual harassment including unwelcome sexual advances, indecent language, and offensive comments
  • the demand for a smoke-free environment by the law and people
  • substance abuse such as the use of alcohol and drugs to overcome stress
  • workplace violence and employee-protection programs
  • bullying, including physical and verbal abuse

These are only some of the incidences at the workplace that you need to resolve, manage and control.

If your organization does not implement any policy to manage these incidences, the principle of "vicarious liability" will result in the liability of your organization and senior management for the wrongful acts or abuses by employees. This means that the law will penalize employers for failure to implement effective measures to prevent or control negligent acts of employees.

Importance of Workplace Safety and Health under HRM

Implementation of safety and health is one of the important matters you need to include under your strategic human resources management plan.

When safety and health policy and procedures are in place, you assure your employees that their very lives are one of your important concerns. This makes them feel safer and thus more committed to their work and to the organization. Leaders must not underestimate the power of workplace safety to motivate people.

Once implemented, continue to review your safety and health policy for effectiveness from time to time based on the requirements of the law as changes are made from time to time.

Some institutions of higher learning where you can study for a Degree in Occupational Safety, Health and Environment:
University of Greenwich
Leeds Metropolitan University

You may get some potentially useful information here:
Video on Work-place Safety

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