10 Workplace Safety Considerations for Small Business Owners

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Content utilized to create this post was from Forbes Magazine’s Human Resources Council (includes Megan Leasher, Nicole Smartt Serres, Sameer Penakalapati, Tracy Cote, Chris Stanzione, Subhashree Chaudhuri, Courtney Peterson, Tina R. Walker, Kristin Fowler & Madhukar. Govindaraju)

The vaccines have arrived and the numbers are trending up, down and all around depending on what network your watching and who you are speaking with. The fact is small, midsize and enterprise level businesses are considering what approach they should take for getting their staff back to work in an office environment. The majority of small and mid-sized employers are looking at using a blended approach, meaning they plan on implementing more work from home flexibility with their existing in office staff. 59% of those that are working from home support a work schedule that allows working from the office and at home. We wanted to provide 10 impactful considerations for employers as they forge forward.

TEN WAYS TO CREATE A SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENT


  1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach

Have a plan that fits your cultural goals and direction. Your plan should be a blend of meeting all safety & risk management guidelines from a legal perspective along with proper consideration for what the organization and its people need.

2. Communication is not a one way street

Involve trusted staff to carry the message of your risk & safety policies. Encourage employee participation in the development process. When your employees feel that their input is valued your office will be engaged in carrying your message. Design the process to be sustainable at all levels of your organization.

3. Proper work-life balance impacts mental health

Employees may be asked to get used to another new normal. Whether that means coming back into the office on a more regular basis or permanently, try and remember that by and large employee mental wellness suffered throughout the pandemic. As you take steps to protect the safety and health of your workforce, do not overlook mental health and wellness. Everybody has unique circumstances that may adversely impact their mental well being so little adjustments like extending flexible work hours can go a long way to employee satisfaction.

4. Play by the same set of rules – that means everybody

It is easy to become disregardful of even the most sensible of guidelines that have been established for the greater good of the group. Implementing common-sense guidelines supported by your state or OSHA need to be followed by everybody. Consistency is the key for resonating the message. Send out reminders as often as necessary and echo your message firmly. Somebody who refuses to abide by clearly defined rules may need to be sent home. Be relentless about making sure everybody is playing by the same set up rules.

5. Be mindful of each other’s responsibilities

Small to mid-sized businesses need to be aware of the risk and safety management responsibilities and the varying degrees the employer and the employee are responsible for. When it comes to providing a safe working environment, provide safety options, consider alternative ways of doing a job safely, and engage employees in a mutually agreeable way. Remaining open-minded and reserving judgement is crucial as well.


6. Tap into available consultative and training resources

Shameless self-promotion is coming in five, four, three, two and one; do you have access to safety and health resources through an agency, consultant or expert… such as a Libertate Insurance for example? Inquire about the available voluminous resources that your reliable partners posses when it comes to evolving environments, laws and compliance requirements! Leverage your partnerships especially those involved in your firm’s best interest and you will be amazed at what “we”, I mean they will be able to help you with.

7. Put safety policies front and center

Do you remind employees about the ongoing safety and mask campaign? Chances are safety policies are not necessarily the primary thought running through your employees minds while racing from desk to printer and back. Your firm’s culture needs to foster regular engagement to the point it becomes second nature. Emotional intelligence goes a long way in the delivery of your message. Remind employees of the care and concern leadership has for their well being, it will be appreciated.

8. Make health and safety part of your organization’s culture

It is all of our responsibility to protect each other and minimize risks. When you see something, say something. Avoid expecting somebody else to see and say something. Every member of the organization can play an active role and should.

9. Do they understand your expectations

If you create a health and safety culture with team members that own the message and every member of the organization is singing the same safety tune, you have won the expectation battle. Do not allow the loose ends or the uninformed be the squeaky wheel. Be consistent, be vigilant and be clear about what is expected.

10. Get creative about getting input from office and field staff

Companies have implemented daily check-ins, reporting processes and employee task forces to encourage information about risk and safety to flow in daily. Create a safety game, make sure managers are listening, remember one voice and one message. Make safety and risk management happen.

Fears of unsafe conditions raise worker rights concerns

 

As the numbers of COVID-19 infections continue to climb, employment attorneys say fearful workers have limited rights in refusing to work, while employers have legal obligations to provide a safe place to work.

It’s an intersection legal experts say calls for enhanced communication between companies and their workers and a constant adherence to evolving state and federal laws guiding work during the pandemic.

“Companies need to assure employees they are on top of this; it goes a long way,” said Matt Hinton, New York-based partner for risk consulting firm Control Risks Ltd. He says the issue is one to watch as more states lift restrictions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both issued guidelines on workplace safely. As of Wednesday, at least one state — Oregon — is gearing up to create permanent workplace safety guidelines for infectious diseases.

A majority of employers say they have plans in place. And safety professionals are telling employers to encourage employee engagement in safety protocols. Yet concerns are growing over whether employers are doing enough. On Monday, unions representing some 60,000 Nevada hospitality workers sued three casino properties over alleged unsafe working conditions related to the coronavirus.

Worker fear is a genuine concern, but it’s not enough to refuse work, said Courtney Malveaux, Richmond, Virginia-based principal and attorney with Jackson Lewis P.C.

The rule is a worker must have a “specific” concern, he said. An example would be if the workplace is not clean, or the worksite is not following local regulations such as requiring individuals to wear masks.

“A generalized fear of COVID does not provide a basis for refusing to work; it has to be a specific fear of a circumstance at that employee’s workplace,” Mr. Malveaux said. “It also has to be a fear that is made in good faith and is reasonable to others.”

An employee with a compromised immune system or other health issue that puts him or her at risk for COVID-19 complications could be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would require the employer to work to find the employee an accommodation, such as an alternative work environment, he said. Any concern with work “must be specific to the workplace or the employee” with a health condition, he said.

Maurice Emsellem, Berkeley, California-based program director of the National Employment Law Project, said worker rights advocates are calling on the federal government to outline more specific guidelines for those who refuse work under certain conditions. He said that what is in place among OSHA, CDC and ADA may not be enough.

There is also concern that state unemployment agencies are not keeping up with the changing landscape. “(Workers) are vulnerable because they lose their unemployment benefits if the state agencies don’t do the right thing,” he said. “In general, workers have to know they can refuse unsafe work.” In most states, a worker who quits a job cannot collect unemployment benefits.

Expect litigation, said Maxfield Marquardt, Los Angeles-based counsel and associate director for regulatory affairs at Trusaic Inc., a compliance technology company. Many state laws create parameters for employees to work “at will,” he said.

“An employee has the right to not show up for work,” he said. “But will they keep their jobs? … An employer can say, ‘You want to work? Come in.’”

Disagreements over whether conditions are safe, or whether an employer is following safe guidelines, are “part of the reason you are going to see a lot of litigation,” Mr. Marquardt said. “Litigation and regulatory guidance are evolving at a fast pace. OSHA could change its guidelines Friday; the CDC may change its guidelines again.” How can companies avoid the potential legal mess? Pay attention and consider the federal, state and local workplace mandates as “the bare minimum” in ensuring safe working conditions, Mr. Hinton said. “The employee sentiment is the important piece,” he said. “Have a path for your employees to raise their hand and say, ‘This isn’t working.’”

Listening to employees will be key, said Kim Brunell, Washington-based associate director at Control Risks. “You have to have a collaborative approach to safety,” she said. “Employers that do that best consider the context of a particular work environment.”

 

Originally posted on July 1st, 2020 by Louise Esola for Business Insurance