Employers trust their team members to show up each workday and do their best; leveraging their time, talents, and training to contribute to the organization’s success. More than that, employers contribute their own set of responsibilities. Notably, employers must create safe and supportive workplaces that empower employees to work effectively.
For managers and supervisors, taking a proactive approach to accident prevention in the workplace is crucial. Leaders who aspire to safeguard employees and keep workplaces hazard free should understand how to best prevent workplace hazards and accidents for employee safety and wellbeing.
What Makes Safety in the Workplace So Important?
Emphasizing workplace safety and accident prevention is an ethical responsibility for employers. It is also an essential component of sound business strategy. Consider just a few of the reasons why safety in the workplace is paramount.
In an unsafe work environment, employees are more likely to worry about their own well-being. This is particularly true in high-risk professional settings, be it a construction site or an industrial facility. Nobody wants to become injured on the job, and if employees constantly experience stress about their own safety, it means they are hindered from tackling their work with focus and enthusiasm.
Another reason to concentrate on safety in the workplace is that doing so can help reduce the number of accidents. While accidents can happen anywhere, a notoriously hazardous workplace suffers from a damaged reputation, inefficiencies associated with a diminished or short-staffed workforce, and low employee morale.
Fewer Workers’ Compensation Claims
When an employee is injured on the job, it is their right to file a worker’s compensation claim. Depending on the type of treatment they require, this can result in high costs for the business and even legal implications. Workplaces that focus on accident prevention can reduce workers’ comp claims as a result of improved safety conditions.
Whenever an injured employee misses work for an extended period of time, the entire team’s productivity is diminished. Prioritizing accident prevention in the workplace helps reduce absenteeism and boosts productivity as well as employee morale
The worst-case scenario for any workplace accident is an employee fatality. A fatal workplace accident can cause panic and turmoil throughout the entire team. Potential liability issues and a lowered employment reputation in the community can also result.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Workplace Accidents?
Before developing an accident analysis and prevention plan, it is important to gain insight into what causes workplace accidents. While the specifics can vary from one work environment to the next, the following common workplace situations typically present a higher risk for accidents.
When employees lift heavy objects, it can result in injuries, including sprains or strains. These types of injuries are a common type of accident in workplaces that lack the appropriate tools or protocols for maneuvering heavyweight objects.
In environments where employees are performing a lot of physical labor, or when they are required to work in hot temperatures, hydration is key. Inadequate water breaks, or lack of access to clean drinking water, can result in a host of potential accidents. For example, dehydration may cause light-headedness and dizziness, making it more likely an employee will trip, fall, or collapse.
In low-visibility conditions, it becomes all too easy for workers to trip and fall, potentially causing serious injury. Poor lighting is especially problematic in warehouses and other types of storage facilities, as well as in stairwells.
Many industrial settings require employees to handle hazardous materials or to work in environments where corrosive fumes are present. These are just a few of the many types of hazards in the workplace. Without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), exposure to these materials can have significant health effects, including causing illness or dizziness that could contribute to falls and other accidents.
Trips and Falls
Beyond poor lighting, workplace accidents can be caused by numerous factors: Slick surfaces, untreated ice and snow, high-traffic corridors, misplaced power or telecom cords, and more. Any trip and fall accident has the potential to be serious, resulting in lasting injury.
What Are the Best Tips for Accident Prevention in the Workplace?
When employers see the significance of implementing strategies for accident prevention in the workplace and understand the common contributors to workplace injury, the next step is implementing sound strategies to promote worker well-being. The following are some tips for creating a safe work environment.
Create an Accident Prevention Plan
First and foremost, every workplace should have a clearly written plan for accident analysis and prevention. The accident prevention plan should be comprehensive and include such information as:
- Which safety tasks are required on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis, and which team members are responsible for completing these safety tasks
- How potential hazards can be reported to company management
- How accidents or safety incidents can be reported and properly documented
Having a plan in place not only clarifies management’s expectations but also signals to employees that their safety is a top priority. Make a comprehensive plan, then review and amend it at least once a year.
Require Physical Exams
Some job roles call for heavy lifting or working in hot temperatures. For roles that are physically demanding, assess employee readiness first. Pre-employment health screenings, including full physical exams, can help ensure that strenuous tasks go to the employees who are physically able to perform them.
Pre-employment medical screenings may also encompass tests for:
- Lung capacity
- Pull and grip strength
- Cardiac stress
Note that for physically demanding jobs, employers may mandate workers get physicals each year. This is a good way to minimize accidents that arise from physical overexertion.
Provide Training Sessions
Every company should hold periodic training sessions, reminding employees of common risks they face and also briefing them on the best practices to reduce those risks. Regular training sessions can bring employees up to speed regarding changing safety policies, while also reinforcing existing policies.
Employee training sessions may also cover practical safety strategies such as:
- Proper lifting techniques
- Proper procedures for handling hazardous materials
- Best policies for accident reporting
- Locations of emergency equipment, including first aid kits
Another important step in ensuring employee safety is conducting a regular evaluation of workplace risks and potential safety hazards. This can mean scheduling walk-throughs or inspections that include managers, supervisors, HR representatives, or other safety officers. During these walk-throughs, leaders can:
- Tour facilities and make note of potential risks
- Review accident reports from the previous year (or the previous six months)
- Customize the accident prevention plan to make note of any new risks that are found
New workplace hazards can crop up at any time, so regular inspections are vital to staying vigilant about accident prevention in the workplace.
Provide the Right Gear
In some work environments, it is appropriate for the company to provide employees with protective gear. Personal protective equipment (PPE) encompasses any gear designed to keep employees safe. Common examples include helmets, goggles, gloves, ear coverings, harnesses, and foot protection. In low-visibility work environments, reflective vests also qualify as PPE.
Keep in mind that with some types of PPE, employees may need some training on their proper use. Something else to consider is conducting an unannounced safety audit to check on whether employees are actually using the required gear.
Finally, some work environments may require PPE that extends beyond wearables. Traffic cones, signage, and first aid kits are common examples.
Focus on Cleanliness
Simply maintaining a clean, well-organized work environment can be an effective way to reduce accidents. As such, proper clean-up should be part of employees’ responsibilities. Routine clean-up helps keep the workplace free of clutter, spills, loose rugs, and loose wiring, all of which can be tripping hazards.
In industrial settings, including warehouses, it may be necessary to provide strategically placed cleaning stations, making it possible for workers to address any spills as soon as they happen.
Install Proper Lighting
Another important way to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents, particularly trips and falls, is to install bright lighting throughout the work environment. Ensure clear illumination in work areas, along footpaths, at entrances and exits, and in parking areas.
Also be advised that, when employees work off-site, it may be necessary to supply them with portable lighting equipment. Examples include spotlights or individual headlamps.
Inspect Vehicles and Machinery
In some workplaces, faulty machinery or poorly maintained vehicles can create dangerous situations for personnel. A key aspect of accident prevention in the workplace is performing regular inspections and routine maintenance to help ensure all equipment is running smoothly and safely. Some examples include:
- Balancing, rotating, and replacing tires
- Performing regular oil changes
- Replacing windshield wipers
- Monitoring the brake system
- Ensuring all machinery is properly lubricated
- Cleaning or replacing oil and dust filters as needed
- Reviewing machinery and equipment manuals to ensure routine maintenance
Ensure Proper Signage
Clear, adequate signage is an essential part of accident prevention. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires businesses to post signage alerting workers to potential danger, advising caution, or simply reminding them of important safety guidelines. Make certain that the appropriate signage is prominently posted throughout the workplace.
Be Mindful in Staffing and Scheduling
An often-overlooked way to promote safety in the workplace is to properly and fully staff each shift with adequate personnel for whatever tasks must be completed. Proper staffing helps ensure no one employee is significantly overworked, overburdened, or placed at a heightened risk of fatigue. Also note that for certain types of physical labor, having multiple employees sharing the work can significantly reduce the chances of injury.
Seek Feedback from Employees
Often, employees have the clearest view of potential risks and hazards in their own workplaces; they may see things that leaders and managers overlook. However, employees may sometimes feel reluctant to express their concerns. Create a safe, effective way for employees to voice any worries they have about their work conditions, such as an anonymous suggestion box. Make sure you incorporate employee feedback into any accident prevention plan.
What Are the Best Methods for Accident Analysis and Prevention?
Even in work environments where safety is prioritized and accident prevention plans are in place, accidents and injuries can still happen. What matters is how the organization responds to these incidents. Certainly, the most pressing matter is to quickly provide proper medical care for an injured employee. Beyond that, companies should conduct an accident analysis.
What Is Accident Analysis?
Simply put, an accident analysis is an investigation into why the incident happened in the first place. The accident analysis may uncover previously unknown risks in the workplace or breaches of safety protocol. It’s crucial to get to the root cause of the accident because it enables management to implement the proper precautions for future accident prevention in the workplace.
Steps for Accident Analysis
A few steps are required for effective accident analysis and prevention.
- Determine who should lead the investigation. Internal safety policies may dictate that the investigation be spearheaded by the supervisor with the most immediate knowledge of the accident; by members of a workplace safety committee; or by third-party investigators, if needed.
- Create a plan. A written accident analysis plan should denote the purpose of the investigation, the roles/personnel involved in the investigation, the timeline for the investigation, and the means for reporting the results.
- Ensure proper training for investigators. For personnel involved in workplace investigations, some training is essential. Include this within the normal scope of workplace safety training sessions.
- Be clear in communication. Finally, it is important to be clear in communicating the company’s investigation policies, specifically emphasizing that investigations are designed to prevent further injuries, not to place blame. The employee handbook is a good place to include accident analysis policies.
What Is an Accident Prevention Plan?
When setting steps in place to avert workplace accidents and injuries, an accident prevention plan is important not only for codifying the internal steps to mitigate risk, but also to reassure employees their well-being matters.
Elements of an Accident Prevention Plan
Core elements to an effective plan include:
- Management commitment. It is always good to preface the plan with a clear statement from company leadership, voicing their sincere concern for minimizing risk and keeping all employees as safe as can be.
- Hazards analysis. A good accident plan may also include a catalog of some of the most serious or prevalent hazards faced in the work environment, whether based on existing incident reports or simply a walk-through inspection.
- Recordkeeping. The accident plan may also denote the ways in which personnel will keep records of any workplace accidents or injuries, as well as responses to those accidents.
- Training. Be clear in articulating training needs and expectations, including the regularity with which in-house safety training will be offered.
- Inspections and audits. Policies about safety inspections and audits should also be included in the accident plan.
Mitigate Risk in the Workplace
For employees to work effectively, they have to feel safe and protected at all times. That is what makes accident prevention in the workplace so critical — a paramount concern for employers and employees alike in virtually any professional setting.
An excellent way to become more adept at promoting workplace safety is by obtaining advanced training, such as through Tulane University’s Online Master of Science in Public Health in Industrial Hygiene degree. By earning an advanced education, it is possible to acquire the skills to master accident analysis, risk assessment, and more — ultimately leading to higher standards of safety for all who work.
How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
What Can You Do with a Master’s in Industrial Hygiene?
HPPY, “Top 8 Reasons Why Workplace Safety Is Important”
Indeed, “11 Tips for Accident Prevention in the Workplace”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Specifications for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags
Oresky & Associates, “10 Tips to Prevent Accidents at Work”
Reliable Plant, “8 Common Causes of Workplace Accidents”
SFM, “Do You Have a Plan for Investigating Work Injuries?”