Employee Safety

Nick Staley
Employee safety: is it your job as an HR professional? Yes: safety is one of the most overlooked aspects of HR. In addition to keeping your employees healthy, workplace safety is heavily regulated, and non-compliance can end up getting you fined by the government.

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What Is Employee Safety?

Employee safety is a pretty broad topic, and we won’t cover every aspect of it here.  Employee safety covers your efforts to create a safe work environment for your employees and comply with regulations. Safety usually refers to protecting physical wellbeing in the workplace.

Why Is Employee Safety Important?

It seems obvious that we want to keep our employees healthy. But you may be unaware of other reasons you need to make it apparent that your company has a great safety culture.

  • It keeps your employees safe. This is self-explanatory; no one wants to work in an environment where they feel endangered.  Although some jobs come with inherent risks, companies can always take steps to mitigate risk and promote safety.
  • It keeps OSHA out of your building. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration upholds the standards for workplace safety. If they receive a tip that there is a potential unsafe condition at your workplace, they will more than likely come to investigate. Once inside, they have the ability and right to look at other things as well. OSHA has the authority to charge your company hefty fines.
  • It creates a great work environment. If you work for a company where there is inherent risk involved in the work, safety should be top of mind. If you can create a culture around safety, people will want to come work for you because they know you take it seriously and they can work without fear of needless injury.

Employer Responsibilities to Promote Safety

This goes back to creating a culture built around safety. If there are risks in what your employees do on a day-to-day basis, it is your responsibility as the employer to ensure they are able to perform their job in the safest way possible. This responsibility comes from a legal as well as moral and business perspective.

Responsibility 1: Provide Necessary Safety Equipment

The company needs to provide the necessary safety equipment so that employees are able to perform their job under the safest conditions possible. This includes, but is not limited to, eye protection, hearing protection, and safety gloves.

Responsibility 2: Build a Safety Team

If you can’t afford to hire someone to manage safety, get enough people on board within your company to become safety advocates. Start having those conversations about safety and how it can be improved. Include people from all different aspects of the company to ensure that you have created a well-rounded team focused on employee safety.

Responsibility 3: Audit Your Company

Regularly walk through the building, identify potential hazards, and fix them. This is an important step to ensure that you are creating a safe environment, and it will get other people excited to participate as well.

Responsibility 4: Train your staff

It’s simply not sufficient to only have policies written in your handbook, have a safety team, or audit your company.  You must have a training procedure as well to ensure that your employees know and understand the role that they play in the overall safety of the organization.  A good safety training program shows that you are committed to developing a safety first culture in the workplace.

Practices You Can Implement to Promote Employee Safety

We have to start somewhere, right?  Safety can be an overwhelming topic when you look at it from a big picture standpoint. Break it down into smaller pieces and just start doing small things.

Practice 1: Get in the Habit of Looking for Potential Issues

Correcting small problems right away is easier than trying to correct them after they are a major problem and have caused someone to get injured.

Practice 2: See Something, Say Something

If you see employees engaging in unsafe practices, say something right away. You don’t want to learn later that one of those employees has gotten seriously injured from the situation.

Practice 3: Become an Advocate

Make sure people know you are passionate about developing a culture around safety, and that they can come to you if they feel there is an unsafe situation in the workplace. Become a spokesperson for safety with management and make sure you remind them how important it is to create a safe environment.

Where Can I Learn More About Local, National, and Industry-specific Safety Requirements?

Every industry has different requirements, every state has different regulations, and sometimes even cities regulate what you need to include in your safety program or training. Our recommendation is to start by looking at the federal regulations for your industry to get the big ideas down. A good place to start for this would be OSHA’s website or the Department of Labor.  From there, you can get into more specific requirements by consulting your state and city’s equivalent of the Department of Labor. It is also beneficial to know that not all states fall under the federal OSHA; some have a state equivalent that has the exact same power.  We have referenced that list here.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Safety

What are best practices in employee safety?
Look for small things before they become major things. By consistently looking for potential issues, there is a lower likelihood that something major will occur.
What is HR’s role in employee safety?
Generally speaking, safety is considered an HR function. This may not be the case at every company. It directly impacts the people in an organization, so it should be tied to everything we do as HR professionals.
Does employee safety include employee security?
Yes! They are very closely related. By creating a safe environment, you are also creating a secure environment. Security issues included in a safety program or company policies might include things such as knowing who is in your building (i.e. having a visitor check-in), ensuring all non-essential doors are locked, and having a weapons policy.
Nick Staley

Nick is a certified HR professional holding an SPHR and SHRM-CP. Nick has built HR teams from the ground up as well as worked for big corporations. Nick enjoys consulting and training those who are just getting started in HR. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family.

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