As a small business owner, one of your top priorities should be safety. A well-run workplace safety program can help reduce employee injuries, workers' compensation claims, and other related costs (like having to train new team members to sub in for hurt employees).
To help keep your employees safe, use these nine safety tips for work. They’re adaptable for nearly any business, so no matter what kind of company you have, you’ll have enough to get started right away.
1. Identify Workplace Dangers
Safety isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing when it comes to businesses. An insurance agent is going to have very different safety procedures compared to the owner of a construction company. You’ve got to customize your safety plans to work for the type of business you have.
That’s why your very first step has to be to identify any hazards specific to your business. Go to each location where your employees work and look for potential hazards. Start writing them down so you don’t forget any.
Here are a few common risky activities your employees might face:
- Working with hazardous materials
- Operating heavy equipment, such as a forklift or backhoe
- Working at significant heights, like on scaffolding
- Performing repetitive motions, like clicking a mouse over and over
- Walking around a cluttered workspace
- Using power tools
- Plugging something into an overcrowded outlet
What other dangers can you add to this list? Make your list as long as possible; you want to be thorough.
This part sounds tedious, but it has to be done. If you don’t know what hazards your employees are dealing with, you won’t be able to make things safer. So don’t skip this step.
2. Create Safety Procedures
Now that you know what hazards your business has, it’s time to create safety rules. These procedures can reduce the risk of accidents happening. They also show that you have a safety-first mentality.
And while this sounds overwhelming, you don’t have to start from scratch on this project. OSHA has a lot of great tools, including one that tells you what standards apply to you and tips on how to meet them.
In the meantime, here are a few examples of rules and processes you could implement:
- Employees have to wear protective clothing when handling hazardous materials. Also, be sure to have a plan in place for disposing of those materials.
- Anyone using heavy machinery must complete a training program to make sure they can use the equipment safely. But don’t forget to do your part! Give everyone the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do their job safely—think hard hats, thick gloves, and highlighter-bright vests so everyone can see them.
- Safety equipment is a must on jobs that take employees to high places. Some workers won’t see the need for this, but you’ll need to insist. Their safety is your responsibility, so make sure they keep their safety belts and harnesses on to prevent falls.
- Have an electrician install enough outlets to avoid overload in high-use areas. Regularly check the outlets to make sure extra items aren’t plugged in.
- Employees must keep their workspace picked up and free from clutter, so no one takes a tumble. Also, make sure you have someone cleaning things regularly. One thing the pandemic taught us is that common areas need regular disinfecting.
- Make sure you have the right amount of workers’ compensation coverage, in case an employee gets hurt. Double-check all of your class codes and payroll are up to date. Hourly makes this simple for you. We adjust your workers’ comp rates based on payroll so you’ll never have to wonder if you have enough (or too much!) coverage. Learn how you can stop paying too much for workers’ comp.
- Take a class on first aid and learn what you have to do if someone gets hurt at work. Keep any required supplies on hand in an easy-to-find spot and tell your staff where the supplies are. You shouldn’t have to dig through several desk drawers to find a bandage if someone is bleeding!
These types of safety rules and procedures may seem unnecessary. And some of them seem like common sense. But, specific rules are needed to show that you’re creating a safe working environment for your employees.
3. Prepare for Emergencies
While you’ve spent a lot of time preparing for expected risks in your business, there’s wisdom in moving beyond that and thinking about potential problems.
We don’t expect you to be hardcore preppers with plans for every possible scenario, but you need some sort of emergency plan in place in case things go wrong. Do all your employees know the best way out of the building if a fire breaks out? Do you have clearly lit emergency exit signs in place?
If not, you need to spend some time getting prepared. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has plenty of resources to help you get started.
4. Write Down Your Policies in a Manual–and Give it to Workers
You can’t just talk about safety with your team. You actually have to put your safety procedures and protocols into writing. That way, everyone can look at them whenever they need to, and you can make sure everyone is trained on the same rules. Consider it your safety manual, and distribute it to your workers.
Here are a few areas that might need to be included in your manual:
- General Health and Safety Principles, like hazard prevention and employee training
- Fall Protection
- Bloodborne Pathogens
- Commercial Driving
- Heat Exposure
Once you've put your safety policies in writing, make copies of the document for all your employees. Then give them a chance to read through it and ask any questions. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding safety.
After you've prepared these policies, please don't make the mistake of never revisiting them. Safety isn't a set-it-and-forget-it part of a business. Instead, review your policy frequently and update it as needed.
You can also download a checklist from OSHA to evaluate your safety program and help you stay on track.
5. Provide Safety Training
Proper training is one of the most important things you can do to keep your employees safe. It helps them understand the risks involved in their job and how to avoid accidents.
Yeah, we know. Time spent in training takes away valuable on-the-job hours. You might also think it reduces productivity.
But do you know what impacts your bottom line even more? Having an employee out for a couple of days, weeks, or even longer because of a preventable injury. You really don’t want that to happen.
So make sure your employees receive safety training. OSHA offers many types of training for free, so take advantage of their training library. There are also paid training options, such as the basic OSHA 10-Hour Certification.
Training isn’t only for newbies. Don’t forget about regularly offering refresher courses. Keep everyone up to date with the latest safety recommendations for your industry.
6. Have a Way for Employees to Voice Their Safety Concerns
Your employees are on the front lines of your business. They're the ones who see potential hazards every day. So, it's crucial they have a way to report unsafe conditions.
Make sure your employees know how to speak up if they see workplace hazards. Tell them who they should go to with their concerns.
Also, consider setting up a safety committee. This committee is a group of employees who meet regularly to discuss any concerns. You can also use this committee to brainstorm new ways to improve safety in your workplace.
7. Use OSHA Resources
We already mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth saying again (since it’s so helpful!).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is part of the U.S. Department of Labor that upholds the laws for safe working environments. If you have employees, you must follow OSHA guidelines.
OSHA.gov offers a wide range of resources that can help you make your workplace safer. These include:
- Safety and health regulations
- Guidelines for general and specific industries
- Safety and health posters
- Safety training materials
You can also find OSHA-approved safety courses in your area. These can help you learn more about how to protect your employees.
8. Keep Ergonomics in Mind
Ergonomics is the study of how people physically interact with their desk, computer, computer chair and other parts of their workplace. With the right ergonomics, it's easier and safer for your employees to do their jobs.
When employees strain their bodies or reach too far, they can get hurt. And though this type of injury doesn’t sound like something to worry about, it can lead to lifelong problems. Carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, tendonitis, and other musculoskeletal disorders have been linked to workers straining their bodies too much on the job.
As the employer, it’s your responsibility to set up an ergonomic workspace and make sure every employee has a comfortable place to work.
What can that look like?
- Choosing the correct type of chair for your employees. Look for one that is fully adjustable in height and offers armrests and lumbar support. It should also swivel 360 degrees to help prevent straining.
- Adjusting workstations to the right height, so each employee’s feet are flat on the floor.
- Positioning computer screens at eye level for each employee and keyboards so employees have a 90-degree angle between their arm and elbow.
- Arranging workspaces so that employees have a bit of space to move around and aren't cramped.
- Providing proper lighting, so your employees aren’t straining to see things.
- Teaching safe lifting techniques and requiring two people work together to lift heavy objects.
- Providing the right PPE so your employees can stay safe in all situations—remember to plan for things like thermal gloves for cold weather and knee pads for employees who have to kneel.
- Demonstrating good posture while performing the job, such as maintaining a neutral wrist position while gripping tools and bending with their knees instead of their back.
OSHA has compiled some helpful resources to help business owners create a more ergonomic workplace. You can find solutions for a variety of businesses. They even have a buying checklist to help you select the right types of workstations, chairs, keyboards and more.
9. Give Your Employees Regular Breaks
Tired employees make mistakes that can lead to accidents. Make sure your employees all take regular breaks. They should be able to step away from their workstations and clear their heads for a few minutes.
You might also consider offering nap rooms or quiet areas where employees can rest and recharge. These benefits can help them avoid employee burnout and stay focused on their work.
10. Invest in Safety Equipment
To make a safer workplace, you need to invest in some basic safety equipment. Your must-haves depend on your industry. However, there are a few things that every business should have on hand:
- First aid kits
- Fire extinguishers
- Smoke detectors
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Emergency lights
- Exit signs
When shopping for safety equipment, make sure you follow the specific requirements for your industry. OSHA has lists for first aid kits and fire detection.
Do Everything You Can to Keep Your Employees Safe
Workplace safety is essential for every single business. No matter how many employees you have, you need to do everything you can to keep them safe. This safety-first attitude protects your employees and helps you avoid costly lawsuits brought on by unsafe work conditions.
These nine safety tips for work can help you prevent workplace injuries. They also show your employees that you care about their well-being. And when you take care of your employees, they’re more likely to stay with your company. Now that’s a win-win.