How to maintain a safe work environment: best practices

High-risk industries – chemical manufacturers and healthcare centers have specific requirements meant to protect workers from dangers.

Jessica Sarnowski

by Jessica Sarnowski

Some particularly high-risk industries have specific requirements meant to protect workers from dangers that are unique to the industry. It is vital that employers stay up to date on requirements for employee safety.

Safe work environments comply with all regulatory requirements

Obviously, employers should be concerned with meeting (or exceeding) regulatory requirements pertaining to safety. A safe work environment is one that complies with all requirements under all applicable safety administrations. This seems like a simple concept but implementing this is quite complex. For instance, if your company has operations in California, Paris and London, then you must track all of the safety regulations that pertain to your company in each jurisdiction. This means tracking safety requirements for the state of California + US Federal, the province where Paris is based + Federal France, and the county that includes London + the UK on a Federal level. If one of the companies where you operate is part of the European Union (EU) then you have to also track and comply with EU Directives.

This means the world of requirements is vast and it can be hard to know which ones apply to your company and which ones do not. Many companies cannot track this on their own and so they opt to purchase a solution such as ours, that tracks requirements, helps with determining which are applicable and helps keep track of the compliance status with a bird’s eye view on compliance in the form of a dashboard. In addition, companies may not be able to interpret or analyze requirements to understand what, in the real world, must be done to comply with them. Again, solutions such as ours provide expert insights and analysis that can help you be confident that you are taking the best steps to comply.

Safe work environments have processes in place to track compliance

Even with all of the tools on the market to help employers track compliance, employers must make use of these tools in order to succeed. For instance, if you purchase a regulatory tracking and compliance solution like ours, it is best to treat the initial set-up as a project and to have an internal staff member who serves as the project manager. Once your compliance dashboard is set up, you should make sure that your staff is trained appropriately on each part of the tool that impacts their specific roles. For the next step, it would be helpful for you to set up processes to track compliance.

For instance, if you work in construction, then you must provide fall protection for employees that work at elevations of six (6) feet or higher according to federal regulations. If you have 20 worksites then you should have a process in place to regularly monitor for compliance with this requirement (of course, some of the worksites may follow state requirements that are more stringent than federal and so you would have to factor that in).

The point is that the safest working environments don’t stop with just purchasing a tool to help with compliance, rather they use that tool to the fullest and have processes in place to confirm that requirements are being met. Likewise, these workplaces will also have procedures in place to address problems that are found. Example: if one site doesn’t have fall protection, but needs it, then the local EHS Manager will correct the problem in X days and a follow-up internal inspection will take place in X days.

Safe work environments prioritize employee well-being

Employee well-being is gaining more appreciation in the modern workplace. As new generations emerge, they value overall employee well-being that goes beyond keeping employees safe from workplace dangers. At the core of a safe workplace is the ability to send employees home without injuries, however, some industries and roles are more prone to workplace injuries and illnesses because employees are engaging in dangerous or risky tasks. The working environments that are “safe” place an inherent value on the well-being of their employees by considering how a job responsibility translates from paper to reality.

Employers that pause to think about possible risks to an employee before deciding how to implement safety procedures are better positioned to address worker safety than ones that accept the status quo. For instance, if an employee is working in a warehouse, the employer should take a step back and consider the following:

  • whether items will fall on the employee from above,
  • whether the employee could slip on the floor if a product leaks,
  • whether the employee will need to be lifted up to higher shelves to retrieve warehouse contents (and if so, whether the employee could fall) and
  • whether the employee will need to operate heavy equipment or machines.

Each of these considerations may come with a corresponding regulatory requirement. The more thoughtful the employer is, the safer the employees are. Also, employers should be proactive in anticipating dangers. Even if a danger isn’t obvious, if it is possible, then the safest workplaces take possible dangers into consideration as well.

Safe work environments adapt with the times

Times change and unpredictable events, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, require employers to be flexible with their safety programs. Now, many employees are required to wear masks. Employers are required to make accommodations for social distancing and remote work for their teams. Although pandemics don’t come around often, the lesson learned is that safe working environments change with the times. If there is new technology or equipment to acquire, then employers should have a budget that allows for emergency expenses. The safest environments are those that look at the tasks performed by employees and, when a change in circumstances occurs, invest in the best approach for protecting employees based on those specific tasks.

Maintain a safe working environment by learning from others

These four best practices are not exclusive. Depending upon the industry and jurisdiction in which an employer operates, there may be additional characteristics of the safest working environments. It is always a good idea to stay connected with others in the field and to learn peer-to-peer. You can use this article as a starting point for a discussion with your peers and to improve overall safety in your workplace. If you belong to a trade association, use your peers as sounding boards. Don’t forget that safety is an evolving area, one that benefits from diverse perspectives, so don’t be afraid to learn from others and contribute ideas where you are able.

Subscribe to stay on top of emerging EHS issues with our latest resources

Sign up to receive updates on what’s happening in environmental, health and safety regulations – and what to do about it, including: today’s risks and safeguarding against them, changing regulatory developments and your requirements, trends to get ahead of in your program…