Most of us have had a least a minor mishap at work. Most of them are definitely extremely minor though — a paper cut here, a finger smashed in a drawer there. These incidents don’t usually cost your employer anything more than a bandage, but unfortunately, most employers end up spending a lot more on workplace injuries than a few cents on a bandage.
Even in offices where the majority of work is sedentary, and no one is doing anything particularly dangerous, there is always the risk of injury. Need proof? In the U.S. alone, more than 3 million people a year sustain nonfatal, work-related injuries. Most of these injuries are sprains, strains, and tears that heal quickly and don’t permanently affect one’s ability to work, but they are still costly.
According to a report from Sandel Medical Industries, the average slip-and-fall injury costs an employer more than $60,000, taking into account lost productivity, medical costs, time away from work and staff replacement, and damage or modifications to equipment. What’s frustrating, though, is that the majority of these accidents are preventable.
With the right safety plan and precautions in place, along with training in proper safety protocols, employers can prevent the majority of accidents that lead to lost time and high costs. Unfortunately, many startups and small businesses aren’t aware of the need for a safety plan, falsely believing that because they aren’t working in a “dangerous” environment, there’s no need to be concerned about the potential for injuries.
Startups and Safety
As a startup, chances are you’re operating on a limited budget. So imagine the impact that a single accident could have on your bottom line. Something as simple as an employee tripping over a cord and breaking her arm, or a carton of supplies falling on someone’s foot can have a catastrophic effect on your operating expenses.
While there is a certain amount of common sense involved in safety — employees should know not to engage in dangerous behavior and to be careful as they go about your work — you can’t always count on things going as planned. For this reason, you need a workplace safety plan. This plan should include all of the policies and practices that employees must follow in order to remain safe and reduce the likelihood of injuries on the job. By working with an HSE consultancy to develop this plan, you can be sure that all of the potential risks are covered and that your protocols and procedures are in line with the current labor rules and regulations.
The minimum requirements for a safety plan include:
- Identifying potential safety risks
- Establishing risk control processes and procedures (i.e., prohibiting employees from extending cords too far from their workspaces)
- Establishing emergency response and evacuation plans
- Outlining procedures for reporting and mitigating safety risks and violations
- Outlining training procedures for mitigating safety risks
- Identifying the location of safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and first aid kits
- Establishing a procedure for monitoring and updating safety plans
Again, working with security experts can help you identify the specific requirements for your safety plan, but following these basic parameters will get you on the right track.
Contractors and Virtual Workers
Many startup businesses work with contractors or establish virtual workspaces for their employees — and erroneously believe that they are not responsible for the health and safety of those workers. That is false. Labor laws dictate that employers are responsible for preventing workplace injuries for anyone who works for them, regardless of whether or not they are actual employees or working on-site.
Specific laws and requirements vary by region, but the bottom line is that you must consider your contract and remote workers in your safety policies. This often includes educating and training workers on any equipment that they will be asked to use, ensuring the security of on-site contractors, providing training and education related to ergonomics, and maintaining communication related to health and safety.
Employee injuries can be costly, but they are also generally avoidable. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that because you are a small startup company, you don’t have a responsibility to keep your employees safe and healthy. Take the time to develop a plan, and protect your company from liability.