Learn more about workplace safety, what makes a workplace safe, and why it matters.
Published 26 May 2023
| By Tiffany Argent, Roselin Manawis
Workplace safety refers to the overall safety of people in their workplace. Tasks related to workplace safety include managing the condition of the workplace, managing injuries, and reducing or eliminating risks and hazards. The study and implementation of workplace safety guidelines also fall under the field of occupational safety and health.
Workplace safety is an essential part of any working environment. Per the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “a safe workplace is sound business.” Having robust policies and processes for a safer workplace can help reduce injuries, work-related ill health cases, fatalities, sicknesses, and deaths, which can boost employee morale and productivity, as they will feel protected. Fewer workplace injuries can also benefit the company financially due to reduced insurance premiums and money spent on equipment repairs, leading to a better safety reputation. This is also echoed by Safe Work Australia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also strongly advocates for general occupational health safety. A study from 2017 shows that around 12 million people of active working age, mostly in developing countries, die from noncommunicable or chronic diseases yearly, and in turn, work-related health issues have led to an economic loss of 4–6% in most countries’ GDP.
Following this, WHO’s research has shown that workplace initiatives can reduce sick leaves and other health complications from worsening by 27%, and reduce company healthcare costs by 26%.
Therefore, WHO encourages:
The most common workplace safety issues and workplace hazards can be divided into the following:
Human factors pertain to the environmental, organizational, and job factors affecting an individual. These factors can influence human behavior at work across all industries, which can result in unsafe conditions, behaviors, and practices.
This includes one’s:
Human factors often affect workers in subtle ways that build up over time, affecting their psychological safety and health. While psychological safety in the workplace may not manifest in such a way that is clear to the naked eye, multiple internal and external factors, such as organizational stress, mental health illness, financial issues, bullying and harassment, and substance misuse, can affect their work and physical state, regardless of their industry.
Large-scale life-changing events can also be considered human factors that can affect workplace safety. Events such as pandemics, international conflicts, and detrimental changes in political climate can not only affect one’s work style, psychological state, and productivity, but also their overall safety.
Health hazards pertain to items that can affect one’s health. Chemical hazards such as dust, gases, vapors, fluids, and liquids or solids that can cause burns, irritations, and respiratory issues are one of the most well-known hazards to affect health, as handling them can lead to burns, inhalation of dangerous gasses, and allergic reactions that can lead to further complications.
Inadequate housekeeping leading to scattered or misplaced equipment can also pose a threat to workplace safety. Things like tangled wires, unplugged machines, and broken items can not only negatively impact work processes, but can also cause injuries to its users and those around them. This goes for chemical items as well.
Other common hazards to health and workplace safety are:
While these may be considered essential parts of certain jobs and industries, improper execution and inadequate training can injure or cause life-changing injuries to people, sometimes even leading them to their deaths.
The industries that are most at risk of encountering health hazards are:
Environmental factors are factors based on one’s workplace or immediate work environment. The most common environmental factors affecting workplace safety are weather conditions, especially for those who do field work such as construction workers, electrical workers, and oil and gas excavators. Generally, these people are advised to be cautious when working with high and strong winds, tall heights, heavy rains, and hot weather conditions.
Excessive or low levels of noise can also be a cause of concern in the workplace; if there is a need to raise one’s voice constantly to be heard, there can be a noise issue, which can also affect the quality of work done. Similarly, a problem with lighting can also affect workplace safety, as too much or inadequate lighting may increase the risk of injury due to reduced visibility. Sudden changes in lighting can also cause momentary blindness or eye dryness, which can lead to migraines.
Extreme changes in temperature, such as reaching too hot or too cold temperatures from one’s environment can also affect workplace safety. Sudden, rapid changes can stress the body, hindering it from working effectively.
Generally, a safe workplace should first begin with employers or company leaders actively promoting workplace safety and health programs. They are encouraged to start small and then move on to creating and maintaining large-scale programs and initiatives, and improving on them as needed. They may start by conducting a safety audit, to identify areas in the workplace that require actions to promote safety. Employees should also be involved in these, especially in the creation of systems that deal with identifying and addressing hazards. Managing workplace safety should be the priority and basis of all work-related tasks.
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
Additionally, based on the Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) perspective, the quality of safety is just one of the many outcomes of work. The HOP perspective is focused on improving existing work and work conditions as a way to build capacity and ensure business success. A safe workplace will produce great work, and great work is indicative of a workplace and work environment that cares about the safety of its employees.
In terms of what a safe workplace should look like, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has the following standards:
An unsafe workplace is most known to cause injuries and diseases that lead to expensive treatments, lifelong issues, and in the worst case scenario, death. A place known for being unsafe can also turn away talent from applying, as well as demotivate their existing employees.
The OSHA, HSE, and other workplace safety regulating bodies recommend employees who feel unsafe in their working environment tell their immediate supervisors about their concerns. If there is no action done by the employer or company, employees can choose to file a formal complaint to their country’s workplace safety authority instead.
Both employers and employees benefit from having a safe workplace. Having a safe workplace not only ensures little to no injuries on-site but can also boost employee morale and productivity, thus improving the company’s overall reputation and workforce.
All workplaces should have provisions for workplace safety in their employee manuals. It would also be best to have posters in the workplace detailing emergency procedures, a list of common hazards and risks in the workplace, and other relevant information. Employees should also be trained on what to do in case of emergencies.
However, in the digital age, other companies have turned to creating digital references for their workplace safety guidelines, such as online learning courses, checklists, and videos.
To manage your workplace safety measures, consider using a digital inspection tool to assist you. Use SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) to help comply with workplace safety laws and ensure you and your employees can work your best in safe conditions.
Identify workplace safety issues, acts of noncompliance, hazards, risks, instructions, and points for improvement in safety management all in one place with SafetyCulture. Use SafetyCulture’s smart checklist builder to create a checklist suited to your needs and access them anytime and anywhere, from your laptop to any mobile device. You can also use the free templated checklists in the Public Library to get you started with your inspections, which you can edit as you see fit. Alternatively, if you already have an existing PDF, Word, PowerPoint, or Excel workplace safety checklist, you can choose to convert them for SafetyCulture use instead and store them in the cloud.
All SafetyCulture checklists and inspection forms can also be shared with members of your team as you see fit. You can also choose to share them with others outside your organization, such as third-party inspectors or safety professionals. This sharing feature not only makes for better collaboration among everyone but also ensures the privacy of your data.
You can also use SafetyCulture to:
Tiffany is the Head of Customer QSHE Services at SafetyCulture, a chartered member of IOSH and an IOSH mentor with 17 years of health and safety management experience in freight forwarding, warehouse operations, science and manufacturing.
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