Employee safety and safety in the workplace are paramount in today’s business environment. As a business grows, it starts to employ people. To begin with, there will generally be a handful of fellow-workers who all know each other and the business. It is relatively easy to formulate policy as you go along. When the business gets beyond a certain stage, maintaining the safety of the staff necessarily needs to become more formalized.
Why Does Workplace Security Matter?
At first sight, it is a silly question. Of course safety matters—nobody wants anyone to get hurt. But there is more to it than just a natural human concern for others.
An employer has a legal responsibility for the safety of the staff. An incident in which someone is hurt can not only keep you awake at night with anxiety about that person’s condition, it can also involve you in time-consuming and expensive legal issues.
Even more important is the fact that a feeling of being safe at work is an essential part of your employees’ morale. If they don’t feel secure they will doubt your commitment to them and will start to look elsewhere for work.
The first part of tackling security is to draw up a risk assessment, looking at every aspect of your workers’ activities and considering how things could go wrong. This will vary from business to business, but may include the following:
- Working risks. Almost any workplace activity has risks that come with it. In a factory setting, there are machines that can cause injuries and there may be dangerous chemicals. In an office there will be electrical equipment, and there will always be hot water around somewhere.
- External threats. Sometimes unpredictable things happen. Fires can break out. Structural elements of the building can fail. Storms can blow roofs off. Intruders can gain entry and threaten staff.
- Out and about. There will usually be some employees whose work takes them outside the normal workplace. The employer is still responsible for their welfare. They may have to walk through high-risk neighborhoods or visit strangers in their homes.
- Interpersonal issues. Not many of your workers will be angels, and some may well have personal issues involving violence or abuse. It is easy for personal problems to spill over into the workplace. It is also easy for a culture of bullying to emerge.
Procedures and Training
The answer to all safety issues is to have clear procedures which cover every situation that can be foreseen. These need to be backed up by training of employees until they know the procedures well. It is the employer’s job to get the training right—too much practicing for something that will probably never happen is a waste of everyone’s time; too little could result in a disaster if no one knows how to respond.
- Working risks. The proper use of dangerous equipment and substances is largely covered by law. Proper notices must be prominently displayed, and staff must be kept up to speed with regular training and checked that they are observing the rules. Equipment in factories and offices must be routinely checked for safety and the results recorded. Everyone on site should know where first aid materials are kept, and who the designated first-aiders are.
- External threats. The procedures for evacuating the building should be clearly understood. Practice evacuations should be undertaken periodically, and new employees need to be briefed early on. Everyone should be able to identify their nearest and alternative exit routes and assembly points. All entry points to the building must be secured against intruders, and all employees must at least carry recognizable printed plastic cards to identify them.
- Out and about. Workers off the premises should be trained in managing their own safety and avoiding potentially dangerous situations. They should be equipped with cell phones with easy-to-use quick dial numbers for the office and the police.
- Interpersonal issues. It has to be clear to every employee that threats, violence, and personal abuse will not be tolerated and are liable to result in immediate dismissal. Employees should be encouraged to report instances of bullying in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously.
A Shared Responsibility
Although the employer will always have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of all staff, it must in practice be a shared responsibility in which every individual makes their contribution. By constantly engaging workers in discussions about security, their own place in the organization will be affirmed, and a sense of common purpose will be encouraged.