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5 tips for creating a safer workplace

18 Jan, 2021 Internal communication, Leadership and managerial communication, Leadership role

Employee safety needs to be taken seriously, whether your organization employs a handful of people or is the workplace for dozens (or even hundreds) of professionals. “No business strategy can be effective if it doesn’t embed employee health, safety, and well-being into its DNA. You’ve made a foundational promise to your workers to take care of them,” the authors of a 2020 Strategy + Business article remind us. Let us also remember that good internal communication plays a key role in creating a safer workplace.

According to the US National Safety Council, 31% of all workplace injuries happen due to overexertion, 27% because of falls or slips, 26% due to inadequate equipment handling, followed by transportation accidents, exposure to harmful substances, and injuries caused by violence.

Then, of course, there’s the average number of workdays lost due to injury. In the US, it averages at 11 days per person annually.

It is therefore clear that your organization needs to ensure it is investing to create a safer workplace for your teams. Not just for general wellbeing, but to boost productivity and output, which accompany greater wellbeing. So here are some of the top tips for creating a safer workplace:

1. Communicate to provide COVID-19 workplace guidance

The US death toll from the pandemic is predicted to reach 500,000 during 2021, and although difficult to predict, the number of infections will rise towards 3 million during the year.

The danger from COVID is all around us, and it is considered the biggest cause of death in the United States in early 2021. Therefore, safety precautions in the workplace are vitally important to ensure workers are sufficiently aware and concerned about the dangers of COVID-19. The impact of the virus will be around for some time to come, despite vaccinations being administered to most of the population.

Experts consider the four factors most likely to cause an infection are:

  • how close you get to an infected person
  • how long you are near that person
  • whether that person expels viral droplets on or near you
  • how much you touch your face afterwards.

OSHA issues COVID recommendations for employee safety

The US federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a paper containing “Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19“:

This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.

The paper provides the following guidance relevant to internal communication:

  • Communicate to employees about the organization’s approach to issues like pay, leave, safety, health and other topics that will affect their health during the COVID-19 outbreak. Provide appropriate training, education and informational material about business-essential job functions and worker health and safety.
  • Keep employee contact virtual where possible. Minimize contact among workers, clients, and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communication and remote work where feasible.
  • Prepare for questions. Develop emergency communication plans, including a forum for answering workers’ concerns. Aim for as much internet-based communication as possible, minimizing direct person-to-person contact where feasible.
  • Provide workers with up-to-date education and training specifically on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors. This includes cough etiquette, handling of items in the workplace, and any physical contact between workers.
  • Train workers who must use protective clothing and equipment on how to obtain it, put it on, wear it, use it properly, take it off correctly, and when and where to replace it. Training material should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language and literacy level for all workers, OSHA states.

Effective ways to communicate about COVID safety with employees

Also, Ragan Communications has published a valuable guide, “3 proven ways to communicate with employees during COVID-19”:

  1. Use actionable messages. Be transparent – if you don’t know, say so, and that you will check. Provide context. Don’t use formal language. Communicate from the heart.
  2. Leadership communication is critical. Show authentic emotion and compassion from your leaders, and that you are all in this together. Share tough facts.
  3. Share the right information. Offer insight and guidance on the latest facts and your organization’s responses. Provide regular, consistent daily updates that everyone can rely on and easily access.

2. Become familiar with workplace safety regulations

A vital step towards ensuring employee safety is, logically, learning the relevant regulations.

In the US, OSHA compliance is mandatory, encompassing laws and regulations that address workplace safety. OSHA offers a range of free resources for employers, including those in Spanish, and all business leaders need to thoroughly understand OSHA requirements. Moreover, regulations tend to change and expand, so managers and all organizational leaders need to stay in the loop and remain aware of updates, such as the guidance issued at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Business leaders need to maintain a strong understanding of the safety material. This includes both the regulations and the resources that will help their organization stay compliant. Fortunately, there are plenty of third-party resources available. This site focuses on safety at the workplace and includes guides on over 100 safety topics, including training materials and documentation templates

3. Invest in education

A safe workplace depends on the efficiency with which protocols and regulations are communicated to employees.

The best practice is to start safety training in the employee onboarding process and to continue this training regularly from then onwards. Preparing guides and handbooks, and making them easily accessible to employees at all times is an equally impactful way of minimizing injury risk.

Don’t underestimate the importance of training, especially around potentially hazardous equipment or substances. Statistical data shows that younger workers are at a particularly high risk of injury at work. During the ages of 20-24 years, workers have a 70% chance of having a work-related accident. Furthermore, 50% of all accidents involve employees who have been on the job for less than six months.

So, if your management’s goal is to create high standards of safety in the  workplace, allow sufficient amount time for all aspects of work training, particularly emphasizing and demonstrating basic safety practices.

4. Promote employee wellbeing in a safe workplace

As almost a third of work-related injuries are caused by overexertion and fatigue, a compelling idea is to invest in employee wellbeing.

There’s plenty of scientific research about the detrimental effect of exhaustion on physical and cognitive performance. We know that fatigued muscles absorb 20% less force than fresh ones, making them more likely to strain. There’s a strong correlation between shift work and injuries, with a bigger impact on women. And, we also know that tiredness decreases productivity, consequently impacting output and profitability. Therefore, business owners and leaders need to promote workplace wellbeing.

In addition to physical safety is the issue of psychological safety, which is a belief that a person in a team will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. If an employee doesn’t feel psychologically safe at work, they can start to experience physical health problems and well as mental issues. In view of this, it is important to ensure a supportive work environment.

Overall, you can help to cultivate a culture that emphasizes a healthy work-life balance. Moreover, try to provide wellness-oriented benefits like break facilities, gym memberships, and refreshment areas. All of these will prove to be worthwhile for creating a safer physical and mental work space.

5. Foster an open and trusting workplace

The final step towards establishing a safe workplace culture is likely to take the most effort. However, building a positive culture in your company also has the potential to propel higher growth and more innovation.

Start by communicating more effectively. Build on the concepts of trust and acceptance, and encourage safe feedback exchanges. Managers are responsible to their team members for creating an open, inclusive, and safe environment that allows them to bring their whole selves to work, according to the Harvard Business Review in November 2020. And “companies with a trusting workplace perform better,” Professor Amy Edmondson from the Harvard Business School observed in 2019. This will benefit all team members.

International management consulting firm Gallup says “managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.” Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” The firm’s research has found employee engagement is the key to better performance and a more vibrant corporate culture. An important aspect of improving managers’ communication skills is that this will lead to stronger engagement and therefore greater care about safety at work.

Good communication skills are a vital factor in strengthening workplace relationships, and therefore it will pay to audit the communication skills of the managers in your organization and use those results to set key performance indicators for the communication activities of managers. This should include regular surveys of staff to rate their supervisor or manager’s communication skills. ‘Transmission checks’ can also be conducted to see what team members know about information their boss has been asked to pass on. In this case, it would be especially important to find out how effectively managers have communicated about safety in the workplace.

In the end, experience and expertise aren’t enough to become a good manager. Good management is the art of developing effective teams, according to Gallup research in 2020. This role also requires the ability to define goals, give clear instructions, and give credit. Assume a mentorship and coaching role with your team. Commit to openly sharing knowledge with all team members, regardless of their age or rank.

Aim to build a workplace that isn’t just physically safe to work in, but that also nurtures healthy relationships and facilitates personal and professional growth.

Final thoughts

Workplace safety encompasses many elements. The most basic of those are about rules and regulations, but you’ll find that creating a safer work environment goes even further. And effective communication plays a key part in a safer environment.

This takes a significant amount of effort. But in the end, it also leads to continued productivity and growth, which is the ultimate goal of any organization.

 

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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