Workplace safety tips for your small business

9 simple ways to create a safe work environment

Workplace safety is an important consideration for small businesses. It protects you and your employees from work-related injuries or illnesses, and it can also help your bottom line. An unsafe work environment can cause problems like staffing issues, missed deadlines and increased workers’ compensation costs that can negatively impact both profitability and productivity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, about 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in 2017 by private industry employers. Nearly 33% of these incidents resulted in time away from work — about 8 workdays on average.

Whether you work in an office, retail space or in the field, following these nine workplace safety tips can help you provide a safe work environment and avoid costly business interruptions.

1. Establish equipment safety procedures

Make safety guidelines for operating machinery and equipment clear, accessible and understood by your employees. They’re not always obvious. Misuse of equipment can lead to injury, which is why you should only use them as intended and carefully follow instructions. For example, when using a ladder, make sure you use the right type and size for your project. Don’t substitute a short ladder if your job calls for a tall one.

A lot of machinery, like forklifts and heavy machines, require specific training and sometimes legal certification to operate. Restrict the use of this equipment only to those who are qualified. Consider implementing a daily safety checklist and scheduling routine maintenance to keep your equipment in good working condition.

2. Improve workplace ergonomics

Lifting heavy objects, bad posture and overreaching are a few of the many causes of workplace injuries. Find ways to improve ergonomics to help minimize these hazards.

Educate your employees on proper techniques and provide them with the tools and resources they need to get their job done safely. This can include mechanical aides like hand trucks or wheelbarrows to transport heavy objects, accessible shelves to minimize strain and height-adjustable furniture to reduce fatigue and improve posture.

3. Maintain your building and property

Keep your work environment safe by scheduling routine property maintenance. Make sure your building has proper ventilation, especially where toxic or combustible materials are present. Routinely clean air ducts and high-moisture areas, like basements, to rid your building of dust, mold and bacteria, which can cause illness. Eliminate tripping hazards by keeping hallways and stairwells well-lit and repairing floors when necessary.

Maintaining the outside of your property is just as important. Repair uneven sidewalks and parking lot areas and clear them of snow, ice and debris. Keep your property well-manicured and trim overgrown trees and shrubs to avoid injury. It’s a good idea to have your building’s foundation inspected somewhat regularly to check for cracks, structural damage and water intrusion.

4. Train your employees

Mishandling workplace equipment like cooking appliances, machinery and power tools can cause injuries and significant property damage. Help keep your workplace safe by educating your employees on key processes, equipment uses and emergency procedures.

Make instructions easily accessible and offer refresher courses to help keep workplace best practices top-of-mind. Motivate employees to support your safety procedures by offering leadership opportunities for employee training and mentorship.

5. Wear protective gear

Protective clothing and equipment can prevent or reduce the severity of a workplace injury. Slip-resistant shoes, gloves, helmets and protective eyewear are just a few of the many things that can help keep you safe. You might need these items if you work in extreme weather conditions or with heavy machinery or sharp objects.

For example, a landscaper might want protective eyewear to shield against flying debris, work gloves to protect against sharp thorns, safety earmuffs to avoid hearing damage, and steel-toed boots to keep feet safe from heavy objects.

6. Practice good housekeeping

Poor housekeeping can increase the likelihood of injury, illness and fire hazards. Maintaining a clean and organized workspace can help prevent workplace accidents on both your property and third-party jobsites.

There are several measures you can take to make your workplace safe. To start, immediately wipe up spills or slick areas to reduce slips and falls. Prevent tripping hazards by keeping walkways and emergency exits free of clutter and debris. If you work or store items on an elevated surface, make sure to secure your supplies to avoid injuring people below. You can protect from illness by properly disposing of trash and combustible materials.

7. Take regular breaks

Taking breaks during work can help reduce injuries. Physical and mental fatigue increases the longer you work without a break and can lead to accidents and decreased productivity. A short break is enough to reset your mind and body so you can return to work refreshed.

If you sit for prolonged periods, take a walk to get your muscles moving and increase blood flow. Alternatively, try to get off your feet for a few minutes if your job requires lots of standing or constant movement. Remember, it’s important to eat regularly and stay hydrated to keep your energy levels high.

8. Reduce workplace stress

Workplace stress is a large contributor to workplace injuries. Tensions can run high between employees, managers and other parties, especially when overworked or facing a tight deadline. Personal influences can also play a role. Have an open-door policy to make it easier for employees to tell you when and why they’re feeling stressed out. Try holding social or team building events to boost employee morale.

9. Make vehicle safety a priority

Workplace safety extends to commercial vehicle use too. Over 2,000 occupational fatalities from transportation-related incidents were reported in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s imperative for business owners to make vehicle safety a priority if they want to sustain a safe work environment.

You can start by making sure only properly trained staff with clean driving records operate your work vehicles. Before hitting the road, make sure trailers are securely attached and vehicle safety features are working. Keep your vehicles in top shape by scheduling routine maintenance. Geofencing devices are great if you’d like to keep track of where your vehicles are and how they’re being driven.

Unfortunately, accidents happen. If you have employees, be sure to advise them on what to do in the event of an accident so they’re prepared in advance.