A Quick Guide to Workplace Safety

Learn more about workplace safety, what makes a workplace safe, and why it matters.

Published 16 Sep 2022 | By Tiffany Argent, Roselin Manawis

What is Workplace Safety?

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.

Why is Workplace Safety Important?

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 heatlh cases, and 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:

  • Countries to develop policies and actions on a national level to encourage private and public entities to do the same
  • Companies to create intervention plans for different types of injuries and hazards depending on the nature of work
  • Officials and company leaders to collaborate with relevant health groups and leaders to create safety and health-related programs focused on dealing with diseases, injuries, mental health, and environmental health

What are The Most Common Workplace Safety Issues?

The most common workplace safety issues and workplace hazards can be divided into the following:

  • Human factors
  • Health hazards
  • Environmental factors

Human Factors

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 to unsafe behaviors and practices. 

This includes one’s: 

  • Job-related tasks such as:
    • Tasks to be done at work and their workload
    • Daily work patterns
  • Organizational environment, such as:
    • Workplace design, culture, and environment
    • Team and leaders 
    • Incidents of violence
    • Communication with others 
    • Resources at work 
  • Individual characteristics, such as:
    • Capability and competence
    • Attitudes 
    • Risk tolerance
    • Psychological state 

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

Health hazards pertain to items that can affect one’s health. Chemical hazards such as dusts, gasses, vapors, 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:

  • Biological hazards from improper waste management, especially from liquid or toxic wastes, which can lead to radiation 
  • Physical ergonomic safety risk factors such as heavy lifting without training and other repetitive motions done in succession and for long periods of time including but not limited to squatting, standing, sitting, and digging 

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

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 level 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. imilarly, 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.    

How Do You Know if Your Workplace is Safe?

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 then move on to creating and maintaining large-scale programs and initiatives, and improving on them as needed. 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. 

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:

  • Steady and stable office or building architecture
  • Well-lit working spaces, with a balance of natural and synthetic light
  • Safe passages for people and vehicles
  • Level flooring all around and inside the work area
  • Protective handrails and other barriers where necessary
  • Clean floors, rooms, furniture, walls, toilets, sinks, and ceilings
  • Regular cleaning and waste disposal and management schedules
  • Easily accessible potable water available at all times 
  • Reasonable working temperatures and proper ventilation and heating systems 

 

FAQs about Workplace Safety

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

Customer Engagement Executive

Tiffany Argent

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.

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.