How Do You KNOW Your Workplace is REALLY Safe?

When an injury occurs, especially a serious one, it gets everyone’s attention. Caring for the employee and correcting the hazard are the top priorities, as they should be. It is necessary to look deeper to ensure it never occurs again – beneath the surface of the iceberg — where the real danger lurks. This is a deep topic – no pun intended! – but for now, lets focus on identifying several contributing dimensions.

We often encourage workplaces to consider all dimensions of a safer work environment, which include a workplace that is physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally safe.  Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy (regardless of its controversy), employees need to feel safe for their own well-being, productivity, and well, safety. Even when addressing one dimension, such as creating physical safety, requires moving beyond the physical dimension alone. Awareness, listening, and caring are needed which in other words, encompass the other dimensions of safety. All dimensions are interconnected. 

It is surprising, almost shocking, to review safety statistics that remain almost unchanged. Consider the top causes of disabling occupational injuries for the past several years, all of which are also the topmost costly injuries to organizations and their employees:

  • Overexertion from lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying and throwing items; as well as exertions or strains from bending, twisting, kneeling, crawling, climbing. PLUS, repetitive motion injuries.
  • Falls, Slips and Trips: Falls on the same level from uneven, slippery floors and Falls to a lower level such as from a ladder, platform or stairs. Slipping or tripping without falling.
  • Struck by or Struck Against objects or equipment, 
  • Motor Vehicle Incidents

Preventing disabling injuries and eliminating the hazards are critical. Asking why these 9 injuries continue is also critical, as is removing the thinking that it couldn’t happen in your workplace. The first step is for leaders to analyze injuries that have occurred over the past 5 years.  But is that enough?  We have heard responses more than once such as, ‘well, no one has been seriously injured here, or from doing XXX,’ or ‘no one has complained before.’  

A point to consider is that none of the disabling injuries happened in isolation and were not expected or anticipated to occur. We need to realize that analyzing what goes on below the tip of the iceberg is needed for prevention.

The other point to consider is that the work-related disabilities and costs are probably much higher than reported. And the cost of attrition is higher too since many employees leave rather than remain and risk injury. These are also all indications of the much broader dimensions of safety. 

For starters, it is necessary to assess not just the physical safety risk and how the work is organized, but the human element as well:

  • The levels of trust between employees and managers
  • The level of psychological safety
  • The level of employee and manager fulfillment
  • Whether the work environment is positive, stressful, or negative
  • What happens when a safety concern is raised, or a hazard is identified 

Ensuring a healthy and safe work environment is the foundation for creating organizational well-being. This requires moving beyond a focus on compliance alone. This also mandates that the cultural aspects of the organization are considered, such as levels of trust, fulfillment, psychological safety, listening, and a positive social environment. 

Many express that the organizational culture can be assessed at the first hello. When we listen to that intuition, it is usually always correct.  The overall culture is foundational to a safe and healthy workplace. Don’t ever assume that a disabling injury can’t happen and because it hasn’t, that the workplace is safe. 

A safe workplace requires, 

  • Vigilance,
  • Collaboration, and 
  • Involvement, 
  • As well as diving into the messy chaos of the process of creating safety. 

Don’t wait for the unthinkable to occur when all that is needed is to look beneath the surface! 

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