Updated: Aug 25
Author(s): Hongjiao (Joe) Yin
Work is a significant aspect that defines all humans. We work to fulfill our potential, make ends meet, and make the world better. Whether rich or poor, most people have an occupation that earns a living. Work is inseparable from humanity. Due to this, workplace safety is crucial to make work meaningful and resourceful. Occupational safety should be approached as a basic need due to the importance of all occupations.
Occupational health and safety are aimed at improving health in the workplace and minimizing the risk of work-related hazards (Loeppke et al., 2015). Implementing health and safety regulations promotes employee well-being in the workplace. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety Health Act into law to uphold employees' safety. It was followed by the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure organizations comply with employee safety laws (Loeppke et al., 2015). Concerns about occupational health and safety have risen over the past decades. Emphasis on injury and harm have broadened beyond traditional physical harm, as employee emotional and mental wellness are ever-increasing concerns in the workplace (Fan et al., 2019). Further, industries under consideration have increased as more occupational and professional fields are being born. For example, technological development has created new occupations, such as online service industries. Therefore, more research is warranted to assess workplace health and safety appropriately.
In 2014, studies estimated global occupational-related deaths to be around 2.3 million; 87% of the demises are associated with work-related diseases (Fan et al., 2019). The illnesses include work-related stresses and other unhealthy workplace ordeals. The rest, 13%, is linked to occupational injuries. It indicates that workplace practices should also adhere to produce conducive working environments for its employees. In 2017, the private industry sector in the United States reported around 2.8 million nonfatal occupational-related injuries (Fan et al., 2019). Financial costs associated with work-related illnesses vary between 1.8-6% of GDP in Europe, the United States, and China.
Significant strides have been made in addressing occupational health and safety. Nonetheless, occupational-related injuries cause a loss of productivity and extensive suffering. More measures must be taken to address the challenge and ensure workplace safety. Organizations must continuously find ways to prevent and address work-related illnesses and injuries. After negotiations between government representatives, employers, and employee unions, appropriate interventions should be enacted.
Some measures can be employed to prevent occupational-related injuries. For example, organizations should reduce exposure to risk factors to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and strategies such as individual ergonomic interventions to help victims recover from injuries (Yılmaz Kaya & Dağdeviren, 2015). Organizations should also train employees to avoid work-related injuries through cognitive and behavioural interventions (Obeidat et al., 2022). Regulations, legislation, and inspections can also prevent the ordeal—for example, a ban on some pesticides for agricultural workers and safety legislation on engineered devices.
Importance of Workplace Safety
A poor and unsafe working environment leads to low employee morale (Okros & Virga, 2022). Hazardous environments lead to a declined worker output as they are more concerned about their safety than the execution of their duties. Therefore, they perform sub-optimally. Further, absence due to sickness or injuries robs an organization's availability of labour. A company suffers indirect losses if it fails to uphold employee safety. Occupational safety is often considered suboptimal to return on investment. However, evidence dispels this myth. Studies indicate that promoting occupational safety measures leads to financial gains. Workplace safety is associated with increased satisfaction and low health complaints. Thriving at the workplace positively affects employees' well-being (Okros & Virga, 2022). The Occupational Safety Health Act mandates employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees (Okros & Virga, 2022). An organization risks increased litigation against it if it fails to uphold employee safety. Legal battles have financial consequences, as an organization must contact lawyers. If they are found negligent, the organization is slapped with huge fees as compensation to the injured employee. Further, organizations that fail to uphold employee safety have a negative image and loss of goodwill. Such a fate leads to the loss of potential employees and customers. These extra costs can be avoided if an organization upholds employee safety.
Gaps in Occupational Safety
Research in occupational health safety focuses on industries with high risks of accidents or causing health-related issues: mining, manufacturing, transport, and construction industries (Fan et al., 2019). Research in other sectors, such as the service sector, is relatively marginalized: personal service, healthcare, retail, and telecommunication industries. Precarious working conditions and a fertile breeding ground for emotional and psychological illnesses characterize the service industry. Further, data from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is limited (Fan et al., 2019). Due to a lack of knowledge, the competencies, risks, and compliance with legal requirements remain relatively unknown. Finally, more industries are shifting from manufacturing, displacing occupational health risks to a marginalized sector.
Research in occupational health safety practices is also low in developing countries compared to developed countries (Fan et al., 2019). Many firms are establishing themselves in developing countries due to the availability of cheap labour and convenient means of production. Less regard and research are paid to employee safety in such countries. Therefore, there needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding the safety of working environments in developing countries.
Recommendations to Implement Workplace Safety in Organizations
Every organization must seek ways of implementing safety in its workplace. The ever-dynamic and complex systems of working conditions mean that organizations must continuously seek ways of upholding workers' safety. Characteristics of work-related illnesses and injuries vary according to the occupational field. Measures applicable in certain professional fields might not apply to others. Certain organizational attributes enable a firm to uphold workplace health and safety. Several factors can indicate an organization's progress and commitment to upholding workplace safety progress.
An organization's leadership must prioritize workplace safety for the entire organization. Top management is ultimately responsible for creating safety in the workplace (Sorensen et al., 2018). Therefore, the leadership should be accountable and allocate the resources needed to create a conducive and safe working environment. Further, the leadership should implement best practices that promote workplace safety and establish relevant policies and practices. These actions should also be communicated through formal and informal organizational channels.
Participation of stakeholders
Organizations should involve all stakeholders at all levels, such as workers' unions and labour unions, in planning and efforts to promote worker health and safety (Sorensen et al., 2018). Engaging employees and management in decision-making encourage both parties to voice their concerns and issues, promoting mutual understanding. The process yields a broader organizational culture of adhering to workplace safety (Obeidat et al., 2022). Employees have the confidence to report safety concerns without the fear of dismissal.
Policies, programs, and practices
An organization should promote policies and practices that improve safety in the workplace. These policies include promoting a safe physical working environment and the organization of the work, such as tasks, demands, and psychological factors (Sorensen et al., 2018). The working conditions should be based on injury prevention controls and eliminating possible hazards. Such practices effectively eliminate exposure to health hazards. Further, a supportive work organization safeguards employees against harassment, psychological strain, and work overload. It also promotes humane conditions such as meal breaks, vacation times, sick leaves, and entitled breaks.
Organizations should regularly evaluate their priority settings and continuously adhere to improving working conditions for their employees through recommended initiatives (Sorensen et al., 2018). It can be done by building health metrics as a determinant of workplace safety. The leadership should evaluate and monitor the existing policies, which is a base for continuous quality improvement.
An organization should always comply with the existing legal regulations for workplace safety (Sorensen et al., 2018). In the United States, organizations should adhere to the Occupational Safety Health Act requirements. The law requires employers to provide workers with a healthy and safe environment. Apart from the legal sphere, organizations should uphold ethical norms that advance workplace safety. Such acts go a long way in helping an organization maintain a good reputation in the community.
Work is an essential part of a person’s livelihood. The importance of occupational safety should be approached as a basic need. Significant strides have been made in addressing the issues. Nonetheless, more measures must be taken, especially in addressing the existing gaps in occupational health and safety. Finally, organizations should adhere to certain recommendations such as leadership commitments, adhering to legislation, promoting safe practices, and involving all stakeholders in examining workplace health and safety concerns.
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