As an entrepreneur, any work environment you oversee must legally be a safe one for your employees. Hazards on the job that result in serious injury or death can result in a costly lawsuit against a business, which can tarnish the company’s reputation and cause it to shut down completely.
There were nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private employers in the United States in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 5,190 workplace fatalities. Improper training, physical hazards and accidents were all causes of injuries and deaths.
Here are some signs a working environment is unsafe, common on-the-job injuries that are experienced at hazardous workplaces, and how employees might act against a business where they are seriously injured.
Signs a Working Environment Is Unsafe
According to work alone safety monitoring service SafetyLine, there are six main types of workplace hazards to be aware of. Business owners should regularly conduct audits of these categories to identify risks and protect workers.
- Safety hazards: Safety hazards are unsafe working conditions that can cause accidents, like slippery substances, things that cause falls from height, electrical hazards and confined spaces.
- Biological hazards: Biological hazards are found in working environments like outdoor venues or hospitals, where exposure to diseases associated with plants, animals or people is a risk.
- Physical hazards: Physical hazards are environmental conditions that can cause ailments like cancer or heat exhaustion, because of factors like radiation, temperature, sunlight and ultraviolet rays, and loud noises.
- Ergonomic hazards: These types of hazards relate to the body position of the worker, and how prolonged strain can cause injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or severe back strain.
- Chemical hazards: Exposure to chemicals like pesticides and gases can cause illness, skin irritation and breathing problems.
- Work organization hazards: Workplace stress can cause long-term mental and physical ailments, resulting in problems like depression or high blood pressure.
Some of these hazards are easier to identify than others, but all can cause short- and long-term injuries. If you identify any of these hazards, it’s up to you as the business owner to eliminate them and prevent them from reappearing. Or, in the case of hazards like extreme weather that are beyond your control, you must take steps to make sure those hazards do not pose a threat to your employees.
Common On-the-Job Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists these 10 types of safety violations as the most common causes of on-the-job injuries:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Scaffolding requirements
- Respiratory protection
- Hazardous energy control
- Powered industrial trucks
- Machinery and machine guarding
- Fall protection training
- Electrical wiring methods, components and equipment
Injuries experienced from these hazards include falls, hazardous object collisions, electrocutions, caught in-between accidents, broken bones, amputations, repetitive motion injuries and more. Training is one of the most essential forms of safety measures, since it can prevent many of these injuries.
What Happens When an Unsafe Working Environment Causes Injuries?
Hopefully before an injury occurs, any employee who notices the unsafe working conditions brings them to the attention of the business owner. OSHA recommends workers in unsafe conditions:
- Ask the employer to fix the hazard or assign the employee other work
- Tell the employer they won’t perform the duty unless the hazard is fixed
- Remain at the worksite until the employer orders them to leave
Workers may file a complaint with OSHA to investigate the danger. If the employer fails to fix the hazard, imminent danger is present to the employee, and there is no time to wait for an inspection, OSHA states employees can refuse to do the task.
In cases where hazards are not noticeable to employees, and they cause a serious personal injury, the employee may contact a lawyer for potential assistance in filing a claim. For example, if an employee falls from an unsafe platform on a construction site, requires hospitalization and is unable to ever fully recover, they may contact a personal injury attorney in Birmingham, AL to get assistance in filing a claim against the employer. Employers that fail to secure workers’ compensation insurance are particularly vulnerable to lawsuits, because they can face fines and felony charges if they don’t have it in place.
The best way to prevent harm to your employees and your business is to proactively foster a safe working environment. If a hazard is brought to your attention, you as a small business owner must keep that employee and all others safe, or potentially face costly repercussions.