How to maintain a safe work environment: best practices

Maintaining a safe work environment is key no matter what industry you are in. Some particularly high-risk industries, for example, chemical manufacturers and healthcare centers have specific requirements meant to protect workers from dangers that are unique to the industry.

Jessica Sarnowski

by Jessica Sarnowski

Maintaining a safe working environment is key, no matter what industry you’re in. Some particularly high-risk industries, such as chemical manufacturers and healthcare centers, have specific requirements designed to protect workers from dangers unique to the industry.

Safe working environments comply with all regulatory requirements

Employers should always be meeting (or exceeding) regulatory requirements pertaining to safety.

A safe working environment complies with 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 governmental 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.

The world of requirements is vast and it can be hard to know which ones apply to your company and which ones don’t.

Many companies can’t track this on their own and so they opt to purchase a solution such as Enhesa’s Regulatory Baseline, to track requirements and determine which legalities are applicable, while Compliance Intelligence helps companies keep track of the organization’s compliance status with a bird’s eye view 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 Compliance Intelligence and Regulatory Forecaster provide expert insights and analysis that can help you be confident you’re taking the best steps to comply with current and upcoming regulations, respectively.

How to use compliance tools effectively to create a safe working environment

Even with all of the compliance tools on the market to help employers track and adhere to regulations, employers must make use of these tools in order to succeed.

For instance, if you purchase a regulatory tracking and compliance solution, it’s 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, make sure that your staff are 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 in the US, 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 changes to compliance requirements (of course, some of the worksites may follow state regulations that are more stringent than federal and so you would have to factor that in).

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. For example, if one site doesn’t have fall protection, but needs it, then the local EHS Manager will correct the problem and follow up with an internal inspection.


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What role does employee welfare play in a safe working environment?

Employee welfare and well-being are central to a  safe working environment in modern businesses. As new generations emerge, they value overall employee welfare that goes beyond keeping employees safe from workplace dangers.

The ability to send employees home without injuries remains at the core of a safe working environment. 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 welfare and well-being of their employees by considering how a job responsibility translates from paper to reality.

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).
  • 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 — even if these go beyond the current regulatory requirements.

5 steps to risk assessment to improve employee welfare

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, and this is where a risk assessment is beneficial. 

As outlined by RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), there are 5 steps to risk assessment you need to consider:

  1. Identify the hazards.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
  4. Record your findings and implement them.
  5. Review your risk assessment and update it, if necessary.


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How to adapt to create a safe working environment

Times change and unpredictable events, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, require employers to be flexible with their safety programs.

 After the pandemic, while masks weren’t a legal requirement, many employees were asked to wear masks, while employers made 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’s 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.

Why learning from others can maintain a safe working environment

These four best practices are not exclusive. Depending on the industry and jurisdiction in which an employer operates, there may be additional characteristics of the safest working environments.

It’s 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.

Overcome common health and safety challenges

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