2019 has been a rough year for workplace safety. While government standards have helped to make jobs safer over the past few decades, there have also been some major workplace incidents that made headlines recently.
But workplace safety doesn’t just mean an absence of violence or major accidents. Rather, it includes having a safe working environment. Failure to provide a safe atmosphere at work is a costly mistake for both businesses and their employees.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) pegs the costs (both direct and indirect) of work-related injuries and illnesses at $170 billion a year.
The National Safety Council estimates a worker is injured on the job every seven seconds.
That equates to 4.6 million injuries each year, which costs companies 104 million FTE production days. Government service, transportation, manufacturing, maintenance, and construction jobs have the highest incidents of workplace injuries.
It’s no surprise that first responders like police officers and firefighters rank at the top of the list. They have some of the most dangerous jobs out there. Everything from natural disasters to major terrorist attacks occurred in the 2010s.
What kind of challenges to workplace safety will we face in 2020? And what solutions might technology provide?
Sickness in the workplace
Whether vaccines are a health risk or not, you will have to judge for yourself, but the fact is vaccination rates are decreasing across the board, and resulting in a lack of vaccinations in adults and the elderly against even common afflictions like influenza.
But it’s not just the needle that many are dodging. A joint survey from University of Chicago’s NORC and the West Health Institute found nearly half of Americans avoid going to the hospital even for tests, treatments, and exams.
How come? Partly because they can’t afford it.
The American Medical Association (AMA) reports American healthcare costs rose almost $1 trillion from 1996-2015. That number is estimated to climb to $6 trillion by 2027, which equates to $17,000 per U.S. worker. Much of this cost was found in a JAMA study to be linked to rising drug costs related to chronic illnesses.
Benefits help, but they also come with a cost. EHealth reports the average per-person premium of small group health insurance is $409 per month, versus $440 for individual plans. These costs are divided between businesses and their employees.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that the average person can do about it. Obtaining affordable health care isn’t really an option for everyone.
People are literally sick of work
Even something as simple as an unstimulating work environment has a negative impact on health. Harvard Medical School recommends challenging the mind (along with the American Heart Association’s Simple 7®) for a healthy lifestyle.
Chronic illnesses cost the American workforce over $153 billion a year, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Employees with chronic diseases miss an astounding 450 million more workdays than healthy workers.
The agency estimates the total annual cost of productivity losses from work-related health problems in the U.S. at $225.8 billion. It breaks down to $1,685 per employee.
That’s on top of the insurance premiums everyone’s paying. And the biggest culprit of work-related illness is stress.
Targeting the workplace shooter
Active shooter drills take place regularly across the country in the wake of an increase in school shootings. Who can blame them? Protecting this nation’s 56.6 million students is a top priority. No child should have to face the possibility of being killed.
But neither should adults.
Sadly, workplace shooters are common in every industry. These headline attacks all happened in the past 3 years:
- The Las Vegas mass shooting at an outdoor country concert hit the hospitality and live event industries. The inventor and manufacturer of bump stocks got shut down over it.
- A bombing during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena further raised the stakes for people of all ages at all live events.
- YouTube’s Silicon Valley HQ was attacked by a disgruntled content creator.
- The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis was also targeted by a gunman that year.
- Twelve people lost their lives in the May Virginia Beach massacre. A disgruntled city employee emailed his resignation then opened fire indiscriminately on coworkers.
- The Walmart in El Paso where August’s shooting occurred managed to reopen this week, just in time for Black Friday. Mass shootings continue stacking up entering 2020.
Effective security technologies, as well as forward-thinking, proactive emergency response measures need to be in place.
Stopping a shooting before it starts
The same threat assessment model used in school shootings can be effectively adapted to any business. In fact, these protocols are usually created in partnership with law enforcement.
Warning signs highlighted by the USSS Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence are useful for adults too.
- Increased absences and decreased performance
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Sudden changes in behavior or appearance
- Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Erratic behavior, dramatic mood swings, or other signs of mental instability
- Expressed interest in terrorist attacks.
These signs may be exhibited by not just coworkers, but even family or friends. Only one of the attacks listed above was committed by an internal employee.
It doesn’t matter whose workplace is saved – preventing active shooters starts with caring about the surrounding community.
Workplace violence is dangerous, and requires our attention. But accidents in the workplace occur on a daily basis.
Preventing workplace accidents
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics received 2.8 million reports of non-fatal workplace injuries or illnesses in 2018. An average of 14 deaths occurs in the workplace every day, according to the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Construction workers account for one in five of those deaths, and OSHA says nearly 60% of construction worker deaths are attributed to what it calls the “Fatal Four”:
- Falls (39.2%)
- Struck by Object (8.2%)
- Electrocutions (7.3%)
- Caught-in/between (5.1%)
It’s not all bad news – the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America reports declines in workplace fatalities in three notable areas: transportation fatalities, workplace violence, and workers struck by objects on the job.
OSHA maintains a comprehensive list of federal standards to maintain workplace safety. These are the foundations of protecting workers on the job.
The agency lists the following 10 standards as most frequently cited by OSHA in the 2018 fiscal year:
- Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]]
- Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Fall Protection–Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
- Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
Although workplace deaths are markedly down from 1972, OSHA isn’t pumping the brakes. New penalties introduced in 2019 are increasing fines for businesses. Violations are subject to $13,260 fines per day until fixed. Willful and repeated OSHA violations are fined $132,598.
The National Safety Council has grim statistics on the costs of work injuries in the U.S. It estimates these injuries cost the economy $161.5 billion a year. Workers’ compensation claims average anywhere from $23,000 for minor scrapes and cuts to $72,293 for vehicle-related injuries on the job.
Injuries to the head and central nervous system push workers’ compensation claims to $96,899. If amputation is required, the claim inches up to $98,126.
A workplace-related death costs $1,150,000. It turns out you can put a price on a life. These aren’t the only injuries experienced at work either.
Sexual assault and harassment
Sexual assault and harassment are unfortunately commonplace in the workplace. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states 2.3% of nonfatal workplace violence incidents reported in the workplace involves rape or sexual violence.
These victims are often forced to quit their jobs and derail their careers. While both men and women can be victims of sexual assault, it’s more prevalent in women. In fact, NPR reports 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, versus 43% of men.
Women now have more support in reporting and responding to sexual assault in the workplace and that’s a good thing. Improving workplace safety in 2020 means acting to stop sexual assaults, and addressing the issues that can lead to them.
Creating a Safer Work Environment
A safe work environment for everybody sounds like an impossible goal.
But that doesn’t mean our efforts are in vain. Many workplaces are safer than in times past. Plus, more companies are taking an active role in preventing workplace violence. For example, major retailer Target has employees performing active shooter drills in the wake of this year’s Walmart shooting.
A study published by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology offers insight into the three key elements of designing a safer workplace.
1. Job Autonomy
It should be no surprise that the freedom to think, speak, and act at work tops this list. Autonomy isn’t just important for safety – it’s a key ingredient in overall health and happiness.
Studies have directly linked autonomy to stress management in difficult jobs, career satisfaction, and productivity. One study linked lack of job control in British civil servants to more instances of coronary heart disease than smoking.
Employees need autonomy, and that should echo across the organization. For example, individual teams at Google have autonomy from the rest of the organization.
Middle managers need managerial autonomy to lead better too. Micromanaging starts up high and continues rolling downhill. An organization full of “yes men” is inevitably filled with people who are unable to act on their own.
Autonomy is how people develop and become comfortable in their own skin. They become more confident in their abilities and reach peak job performance. Purely transactional employees, on the other hand, remain hesitant to take the lead.
Employees who are afraid to make mistakes will ultimately make them.
2. Communication Quality
The Society for Human Resource estimates poor miscommunication costs companies anywhere from $420,000 (small businesses) to $62.4 million each year. The Holmes Report pegged the total cost to the economy at $37 billion in 2011. It’s the most recent year with stats available, but surely that number has gone up.
OSHA guidelines are required to be placed in employee areas like breakrooms. HR and/or management should also routinely review the work floor for any safety violations.
In the event of an emergency, communication is the key to response. One piece of this puzzle is operational security (OPSEC).
OPSEC is a military procedure that’s being increasingly adopted in the private sector. This is how vulnerabilities are identified, sensitive data is protected, and threats are proactively recognized. How can OPSEC help with workplace safety?
Using OPSEC is a systemic approach to countering any internal or external threats within an organization, whether natural disaster, cyberattack, or active shooter. It’s part of an overall enterprise risk management (ERM) plan.
ERMs assign people in charge, maintain scheduled drills, and post documentation where needed. An ERM plan can explain exactly what needs to be done to protect employees, monitor 911 calls to assess the situation, and work with emergency first responders.
This organizes a large group of resources to keep business running through any disaster.
3. Supportive Management
Uninspiring leadership trickles down from management to employees. A recent study found 93% of employees working under a bad leader rate in the bottom 10% of productivity, while 47% of direct reports think about quitting.
A good leader should make all subordinates feel safe. This is done through honesty, delegation, humor, confidence, positivity, and intuition. When leaders display these qualities, it inspires employees to adopt them.
Many cases require anonymity, and employees should feel safe confiding in management about issues with other team members. When direct supervisors fail, upper management, HR, and other resources should be available.
Whistleblowing should be encouraged within every organization. Whistleblowers have the courage to speak out when they see members of upper management violating their ethical duties. Organizations that stifle whistleblowers are typically not very safe places to work.
With these three key elements in place, any workplace can become a safer work environment. A carpenter is only as good as his tools though. Technology is stepping in to make workplaces even safer.
Technology That Improves Safety
The Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are cutting-edge technologies. BeSafe Technologies’ ActiveShield platform merges IoT-enabled sensors with AI-enabled software to enable rapid response for any emergencies.
Azure cloud-based technology, developed with support from Microsoft, delivers real-time information that helps management organize a response and contact local fire, police, and other emergency personnel. In-room buttons activate emergencies, and a digital overlay provides a high-level perspective of exactly what’s happening.
Smart lights within the building are color-coded to identify areas of danger or safety for employees. Sound-tracking microphones help monitor the situation. Mass alerts can also be sent to employees to keep crisis communication lines open.
These technologies are key to managing the three pillars of workplace safety. They can assist businesses through workplace injury, illness, and violence.
This first line of defense has been implemented in K-12 schools, university campuses, health care facilities, office buildings, and other commercial, industrial, and government buildings.
A Safe 2020
As the world becomes increasingly dangerous, more attention and action is needed on our part to help keep our children, our friends, and our families safe. That means constantly improving workplace safety.
Using the guidelines presented above, as well as the latest technologies at our disposal, businesses and their employees can prevent accidents and violence. More than that, we can give them and emergency responders more power in an emergency.
We can’t afford to leave things to chance.
Contact BeSafe Technologies to speak with a professional consultant today to learn how to make your workplace safe in 2020.
Thanks for helping me understand the importance of workplace safety. My uncle is about to transfer his startup into an office and he’s wondering if investing in workplace safety is a good idea. The idea of preventing workplace accidents by promoting workplace safety is brilliant! I should share this with him so he’d get convinced that workplace safety is important.