With the world’s gaze focused on protecting people against COVID-19 over the past two years, it may have been easy to lose sight of other foundational precautions and protocols that help keep workers safe. However, going back to the basics of workplace safety can ensure that employees adhere to mandatory safety standards and remain healthy on the job. Here are four fundamental safety areas that employers can focus on in addition to continuing to follow COVID-19 safety measures.
Get a Grip on Protecting Hands
Hands are among the most valuable and versatile of workers’ tools: they can fluctuate between threading delicate electrical wires to sawing through a thick steel pipe to shifting the lever on a construction vehicle. Yet, despite how often hands are used, hand safety and injury prevention can be overlooked by both employers and employees.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 121,000 employees sustained hand injuries that required them to take time off from work in 2019. Unsurprisingly, a major reason for employees sustaining hand injuries was not wearing proper PPE—70 percent of all workers who reported injuries did not use any form of hand protection, such as gloves, that could have prevented harm. In light of this, employers should encourage their workers to wear gloves that can properly protect their hands when working with materials, equipment or in an environment that could cause injuries. It is also a good idea to research and recommend styles and brands that meet safety standards to help employees make informed decisions.
Be Mindful of Head Safety Requirements
Over the past decade, the rate of work-related head injuries has increased greatly, from 61,200 annual cases in 2010 to 79,620 in 2019. Most of these occurrences, about 54 percent, are caused by contact with an object due to equipment operation, according to the National Safety Council. The rise of work-related head injuries is not only problematic numbers-wise, but because head injuries are usually among the most severe to workers physically. This makes treating them more costly to employers: the average workers’ compensation claim involving an injury to the head or central nervous system more than $92,000. Just as employees need proper protection for their hands, they also need to wear a hard hat, helmet or other form of head protection to ensure that they avoid contusions, concussions and other serious forms of head trauma while working. Remember that OSHA requires employers to ensure that:
- Employees wear a protective helmet when working in areas where there is a potential for injury to the head from falling objects
- A protective helmet designed to reduce electrical shock hazard is worn by employees when near exposed electrical conductors which could contact the head
Conserve Workers’ Hearing
Some workplace hazards are not seen—they are heard. While most of us take our ability to hear for granted, employers who do so risk the safety and productivity of their workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to damaging noise levels at work, accounting for an estimated $242 million in workers’ compensation payments each year. In addition to these economic impacts, employees with hearing loss often experience psychological impacts such as irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, isolation and hostility, as well as diminished communication, concentration and job performance.
As if these reasons are not enough for employers to take action, hearing conservation is also an OSHA mandate. Employers are required to institute occupational noise and hearing conservation programs for employees who work in areas where the probable exposure to noise equals or exceeds an eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) sound level of 85 dB. For reference, talking at a normal volume is about 60 dB, city traffic is 85 dB and a rock concert or tractor generate about 100 to 115 dB.
Don’t Overlook Eye Protection
At number nine of the top ten most-cited OSHA violations in 2020 was inadequate eye and face PPE. According to NIOSH, every day in the U.S., about 2,000 workers sustain eye injuries that need medical treatment, despite the wide availability and relative low-cost of basic protective eye equipment. Any time a worker is exposed to chemical, environmental, radiological or mechanical irritants and hazards, they are required to wear an appropriate form of eye protection. To minimize the risk of workers’ injuries and prevent OSHA citations, employers should set clear expectations about the type of eye PPE workers should wear and when they should wear them.
Whether it is a pair of safety glasses, goggles or face shield on a work site, providing workers with a fitted, appropriate form of eye protection is imperative to prevent minor traumas, as well as serious injuries like blindness or eye amputation.
Encourage Proper Lifting Protocols
About one-fifth of work-related injuries involve the back, according to the National Safety Council, and of those incidents, about 28 percent involve overexertion in lifting or lowering objects. Reminding workers of how to properly lift heavy objects and when to use lifting devices, such as a dolly or cart, can help prevent these common incidents. As it turns out, prevention is key: The University of Southern California reports that once a back injury occurs, a worker is three to five times more likely to experience subsequent injuries.
Responsible lifting requires more than just good technique, though: it requires a safe, supportive environment. Employers should ensure that worksites are properly staffed in the event that an object requires two people to be moved, as well as maintain a clean environment free of potential hazards like wet or slippery floors, equipment and debris. While keeping workers safe is always top of mind for employers, focusing on common injuries that may be frequently overlooked can help ensure a safer, healthier workforce.