Employers have legal and ethical obligations to ensure the safety of their employees in the workplace. There are three main obligations that all employers must fulfill to uphold workplace safety standards.
1. Provide a Safe Working Environment
The first and most fundamental obligation is to provide a safe working environment for employees. This means regularly inspecting equipment and facilities, addressing any hazards or risks, and implementing safety protocols and procedures. Employers must make sure that the physical space employees work in is designed to be safe.
For example, employers need to provide proper ventilation, temperature control, lighting, cleanliness, space layouts that reduce risks, safety guards on machinery, non-slip floors, etc. If employees will be handling hazardous materials, appropriate protective equipment and handling protocols need to be implemented.
Employers can improve safety by designing processes and workflow in a way that eliminates unnecessary risk. They also need to ensure furnishings, seating, workstations, and other physical items in the workplace fit the ergonomic needs of employees.
In addition to the physical space and equipment, employers need safety protocols and rules in place. This can include setting speed limits for forklifts, requiring machinery to be locked and tagged out before servicing, and banning smoking indoors. Employers should minimize any distractions or obstacles that could lead to accidents.
Maintaining a Safe Environment
Creating a safe working environment is only the first step. Employers also need to properly maintain facilities, equipment, and established safety protocols. This involves:
- Regular building maintenance, repairs and updates
- Replacing old or damaged equipment
- Regular safety inspections and audits
- Updating protocols and procedures as needed
- Fixing tripping hazards immediately
- Staying on top of housekeeping
Employers need to be proactive about upkeep and address safety issues before they become a problem. Facilities and equipment should be kept in certified working order. Safety measures cannot be implemented just to check off a box; they need ongoing enforcement.
Adapting for New Hazards
Workplaces change over time, and new hazards can emerge. Employers need to continually assess for new risks and adapt procedures accordingly. Things to watch for include:
- Introduction of new equipment, materials, or processes
- Workflow or layout changes
- Staffing changes
- New building additions
- Modified equipment
As things change, so too should the safety protocols. Employers who stay up to date on the latest industry safety practices and recommendations will be better equipped to identify and control newfound hazards.
2. Provide Safety Training
The second major obligation employers have is to provide adequate safety training to employees. Simply having safety rules and equipment in place is not enough. Employees also need to know how to work safely.
Employers should start by giving all new hires general safety orientation training. This provides a broad overview of the company’s safety programs and protocols. It prepares them to navigate the workplace safely. Regular safety training should continue as employees take on new tasks or roles.
Types of Safety Training
Common types of workplace safety training include:
- Job/task-specific training – How to use equipment properly, safe handling instructions, protective measures for hazardous tasks
- Training on company safety standards & procedures – Evacuation plans, reporting requirements, emergency response etc.
- Training on proper PPE use – When to wear goggles, gloves, respirators etc. and how to use them correctly
- Hazardous communication training – How to read chemical labels, SDS and handle dangerous substances appropriately
- Certifications or specialized training – Such as forklift operation certification or confined space training
The training provided should be relevant to each employee’s individual duties. Front-line production workers will need task-specific training, while office staff may only need general safety protocols.
Effective Safety Training Tips
For safety training to be effective, employers should:
- Use a mix of teaching formats like lectures, videos, hands-on demonstrations, visual aids etc.
- Break training into short, focused sessions instead of overloading workers
- Let workers practice and repeat key concepts
- Verify understanding through written tests, skills assessments etc.
- Repeat training on a regular schedule, not just once
- Update training to reflect any new equipment, methods, or hazards
Well-trained employees will be knowledgeable and confident in safely performing their work. They can help spot and report hazards, potentially avoiding injuries.
3. ProvideNeeded Safety Gear and Equipment
The third major obligation for employers is providing any necessary safety gear and equipment. Employees should not have to supply their own protective items needed for work. Employers must pay for and provide:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Engineering controls
- Safety gear
- Monitoring devices
- Emergency response equipment
- First aid supplies
The specific items needed will vary based on industry and job duties. Although providing safety equipment costs money upfront, it protects the company from the much greater costs that stem from workplace accidents and OSHA violations.
Examples of Safety Equipment
Equipment employers commonly provide includes:
|Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)||Safety goggles, hard hats, hearing protection, respirators, rubber gloves, high-visibility clothing|
|Engineering Controls||Machine guarding, ventilation systems to reduce air contaminants|
|Safety Gear||Safety harnesses and belts, welding screens, ladder stabilizers|
|Monitoring Devices||Gas monitors, smoke detectors, security cameras, radiation dosimeters|
|Emergency Equipment||Fire extinguishers, defibrillators, eyewash stations, safety showers|
|First Aid||First aid kits, bandages, antiseptics, medical gloves, burn cream|
Employers must provide equipment suited to their industry and the types of hazards involved. Items should be readily accessible to employees as needed. It is crucial to properly maintain, inspect, and replace equipment as well.
Requirements for PPE and Safety Gear
With personal protective equipment and safety gear, employers must:
- Select the right PPE for each hazard
- Verify equipment meets safety standards
- Ensure proper fit for each worker
- Replace worn or damaged items
- Have workers demonstrate they can use PPE correctly
- Enforce consistent and proper use of PPE
Ill-fitting or faulty safety equipment offers limited protection. Employees cannot be expected to work safely without the proper gear for their jobs. Enforcing PPE rules is key even if workers find it inconvenient at times.
Fulfilling these three obligations is how employers can uphold workplace safety:
- Providing a safe working environment
- Conducting safety training
- Supplying needed protective equipment
While no workplace can be completely hazard-free, employers have a duty to minimize risks. When companies implement comprehensive safety programs, employees are far less likely to get injured or ill on the job. The result is reduced suffering and costs for both workers and the business.
All employers should make safety a top priority, not just a box to check. While regulations set a baseline, companies should strive for even higher safety standards. When management commits to worker wellbeing, a culture of safety tends to follow.
A safe workplace takes continuous effort and vigilance. But the benefits for employee health, company reputation, productivity, and legal compliance make that effort very worthwhile. By fulfilling these 3 core safety obligations, employers do their part to protect their indispensable workforce.