Regardless of your job or the industry you work in, everyone has the right to safe working conditions. Of course, some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, but employers have a duty to ensure that all employees are safe while working. This article suggests tips for those who might suspect that their workplace is not as safe as it should be and how they can go about being an advocate for safe working conditions.
In all workplaces, no matter the industry, actions must be taken to ensure that the workspace is safe for the employees within it. People tend to think that only manual work with heavy machinery requires occupational risk prevention measures. However, office work should also be subject to inspection in this respect, as poor posture or incorrect orientation of the computer screen can lead to serious long-term injuries. For this reason, it is essential to ask ourselves whether our workplace is safe.
To find out if the place where we work takes our safety and wellbeing seriously, we must look at specific points that indicate that our company promotes a safe workspace. Some of these points may be:
- Employee training: a safe work environment is characterized by maintaining an employee training program that covers safety issues. A work environment’s safety can often be surmised by the health-related information it offers (or lack thereof).
- Inspections on occupational health and safety: inspections of spaces and equipment are a necessary condition for a work environment in accordance with safety measures. If these inspections are not carried out, it is a red flag that the organization does not prioritize health and safety as much as it should.
- Regular meetings on this matter: a telltale sign that a company prioritizes occupational safety is if they hold regular safety meetings. This indicates that there is a concern for employee welfare and that management is devoting resources to this issue.
- Being a safety advocate: employees should advocate for workplace safety, consistently questioning whether the condition of their workplace is appropriate and taking action where appropriate. After all, the employee is the first to know whether their job is safe or not, as they are the one experiencing their work environment firsthand. Therefore, they are the best person to warn of possible risks involved.
In the year 2021, the number of workplace accidents in the United States has been alarming. On average, 14 people die every day while working – that’s more than 5,000 people per year. These figures are unacceptable, and action is urgently needed. In addition to this, hundreds of thousands suffer illnesses, injuries, and permanent disabilities due to their workplace conditions.
There has, however, been considerable progress made in the last 50 years. For example, between the 1960s and 1970s, millions of workers were affected by exposure to asbestos in factories and other manufacturing plants, which gave rise to a greater sensitivity in society towards occupational safety, resulting in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This Law is considered a remarkable achievement in this area, as it marked a before and after in how occupational risk prevention regulations are applied.
The first one to advocate for a safe work environment should be the company itself. However, we know that this is not always the case. In the instance that your employer does not make the necessary changes, you must take the initiative to defend your conditions. To do this, you should become knowledgeable on the subject and review the current regulations and academic works such as Winning Safer Workplaces. This study by the University of Maryland compiles a series of standards and policies aimed at ensuring worker safety in the workplace and can be a useful resource when approaching your boss about safety concerns.
As the proverb goes, plan for the best but prepare for the worst. Before starting a conversation about unsafe working conditions, get to grips with your legal standing. The U.S. Department of Labor has a federal agency ensuring health and safety at work, called Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This agency is responsible for ensuring compliance with the law and imposing sanctions in the event of irregularities and has your back if your employer chooses not to act on your concerns.
Many people are afraid to report safety malpractices because they fear the organization will retaliate and fire them for being “problematic” employees. However, on February 4, 2021, the Democrats introduced an act that defends workers’ rights in their work environment. It includes points such as guaranteeing equal pay, granting the right to unionize workers, and defending safe working conditions. This provides you with the foundation to report your concerns immediately to your employer and request change.
As mentioned above, the people most exposed to occupational accidents are those in the construction sector. Due to the nature of the work, they are more susceptible to severe occupational accidents, and their physical integrity is more endangered than other jobs. However, nowadays, technology has advanced a lot in this aspect, and there are numerous developments aimed at guaranteeing the safety of workers. This includes mobile devices for quick communication, smart helmets that alert of dangers that may occur, and drones to monitor work areas in advance to detect anomalies.
While progress is being steadily made, there is still much to be done to advance workplace safety in the United States. Thousands of people die each year, and hundreds of thousands suffer serious injuries. For this reason, as workers, we have a responsibility to advocate for compliance with existing regulations and to be the first to speak out against harmful practices.
Severe injuries or fatalities take a substantial emotional and physical toll on work environments. This has a significant impact on communities and families, and also contributes to economic inequality. These accidents cause many workers to move from middle class to poverty because of medical expenses and the inability to continue working due to injuries. Significant progress has been made from the legal and regulatory point of view, which protects workers from reporting irregular situations without running the risk of losing their jobs. For this reason, now more than ever, we must take action and do our bit so that everyday workers have a safer working environment.