By Sally Brooks
Does your small business have an established workplace safety protocol? Although workplace safety was probably not one of the exciting details you dreamed about when your business was in the planning stages, it is incredibly important to have a protocol in place. Beyond the moral obligation to keep your employees safe, even small businesses are required to follow safety laws established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or an OSHA-approved state plan. Violations of these laws can result in huge fines, potential lawsuits and a drop in employee retention and morale. Creating a successful safety protocol is a four-step process of understanding the existing laws, evaluating your business for common workplace safety risks, putting a safety protocol in writing and educating your employees.
Understand Existing Laws
All employers are subject to safety standards, established either through OSHA or an OSHA-approved state plan. In general, employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthy workplace. It is your responsibility, as a small business owner, to understand the standards specific to your industry. You can find OHSA’s guidelines on their website. Many businesses will hire a safety consultant to help them understand the applicable laws, either through their insurance company, a government safety organization or industry trade association.
Evaluate Your Business for Existing Risks
OSHA recommends that all small businesses conduct a workplace analysis to identify potential hazards. To get started, request a free and confidential workplace visit from a health and safety professional with your state’s on-site Consultation Program. You can also reach out to others in your industry for information on common safety risks with specific work sites, equipment or processes. For example, for areas with potential asbestos exposure, you can learn about your obligation to reduce exposure and monitor medical conditions by consulting a mesothelioma attorney website for resources regarding different forms of exposure and which work sites pose the most risk. For a workplace where employees are exposed to blood and other bodily fluids, consult a healthcare professional for proper prevention and procedures. Ask employees to help evaluate their work space, as they are often in the best position to recognize potential safety issues. Set up a system that periodically reviews these hazards and checks for new dangers.
Put Your Safety Protocol in Writing
After identifying hazards, you must set up procedures to prevent accidents and a protocol for what to do when safety violations occur. This protocol should be in writing and widely distributed and displayed to employees. Your safety manual should include emergency procedures for incidents like fire or natural disaster, as well as safety instructions for routine tasks and consequences for willful safety violations. Have these written protocols reviewed by a safety professional to ensure they meet legal and industry standards.
All employers are required under OSHA to give employees instructions on how to safely and properly perform their jobs. Employees must be aware of any known hazards and given training on how to prevent and control those hazards. You can reach this goal by establishing a thorough new employee safety training program and requiring continuing training for current employees. Be sure to solicit employee feedback on the efficacy of these trainings and adjust as new procedures are established.
Sally Brooks is a writer and nationally touring stand-up comedian who lives in New York City with her patient husband and chunky baby. Also a recovering attorney, Brooks’ work has been featured in “Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review” and “Jurist.” A lifelong wanderer, Brooks is currently working on a memoir about her Appalachian Trail thru-hike.