How Can Workplace Safety be Revived?

Every employee deserves a place to safely work and feel comfortable reporting warning signs without fears of repercussions. The livelihoods of many depend on proper working conditions. In 2020 alone, 4,764 workers were fatally injured and more than 3 million sustained injuries. As the summer months are now here, the higher-than-average temperatures further increase the risk of underreported work-related injuries and fatalities according to safety experts. However, shedding light on issues of workplace safety is paramount year-round.

An organization’s work culture can metastasize to the point of putting lives at risk. The devastating case of the deadly Amazon facility collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois, in December is a tragic example of when employees were not instructed to stay home despite tornado warnings. The OSHA report also found that employees were unaware of the warehouse’s safety plan and did not receive emergency training. These conditions did not surface overnight. These egregious violations accumulated as a result of a fractured work culture that did not put employees first.

The importance of adopting a strong safety culture also revealed itself over the course of the pandemic. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) faced many data and enforcement complications that made it difficult to protect workers during a public health crisis. The U.S. GAO mentioned the potential widespread noncompliance of employers reporting illness and injury data. With this lack of critical data, OSHA was restricted from target inspections where injuries and illnesses were highest. Thus, only a mere 35 percent of low-income workers and 39 percent of middle-income workers reported being “very satisfied” with protective measures taken at the workplace for those who were in occupations with no telework option.

Lack of data, lack of reporting and lack of proactive enforcement led to corrosive work cultures and potentially life-threatening situations. This is why employers of every size should seek secure and anonymous reporting systems and solutions to manage risks before they arise and give employees peace of mind that their concerns will be seen and heard without bias.

Consistent codes of conduct and policies that are in place for all to follow are what is going to make a reporting solution effective. The same standard of accountability towards workplace behaviors has to be applied across the board. An incident resolution is best accomplished when fair processes are predefined and consistently enforced. Then, bad actors can be identified, and accountability and true change will follow suit.

Obtaining information related to culture, poor leadership or potentially high-risk situations needs to be an ongoing, real-time activity—not a point-in-time assessment, survey or annual review. Recognizing indicators of trouble or employee discontent can be difficult when you are not actively looking for them. It is important to zero in on threats before they come to fruition in order to maintain safe working conditions.

Anonymity of reporting and automation of policy ensures consistency, compliance and trust. Employees who are aware of a problem watch to see if fair, equitable and appropriate actions are taken. However, employees underreport because they fear retaliation and are concerned that sensitive information will be mishandled. Using a secure web-based reporting portal at the organizational level would allow employees to report workplace concerns fairly and with actionable policies that are crafted to address their concerns.

It's not enough to just figure out what was going wrong within the organization. It is incumbent on the organization to then execute a plan to fix the issues and implement preventative measures to avoid recurrence of the same types of detrimental activity.

Looking away from unethical behaviors and ignoring workers sends out a dangerous message to employees. Attempting to hide or put off these types of things will only make matters worse. Today's employees want a work environment they can feel comfortable and safe in, along with caring and transparent leadership they can be proud of.

Workplace safety is essential to ensure workers make it home safe every day, and is essential to keep businesses thriving. It's critical to cultivate a supportive and reassuring environment for workers. And workplace safety starts with establishing a healthy work culture at the outset by implementing fair and equitable reporting resolutions across the organization.

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