Sent to us by Erin Palmer

Whether referred to as Human Resources or Human Services, at companies both large and small, the HR department strives to provide the best possible workplace for their employees. In the day-to-day operations of a company, human resource managers face a complicated set of challenges involving every aspect of the workplace.

Of all these areas, perhaps none are as important as maintaining a safe work environment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 4,690 workplace fatalities in America in 2010, or about 3.6 fatal injuries per 100,000 employees.  While the second lowest total since such numbers were tracked beginning in 1992, this still represents an environment where safety should be of the utmost importance.

In light of all this, it is vital for human resources to make sure that the workplace has first aid supplies and maintains all federal safety rules. Putting rules for safety in place – and constantly evaluating and updating them – is of paramount significance to human resources managers.

What Human Resource Departments Do to Address Safety

Much of how a human resources manager might address worker safety depends largely on the industry and the nature of the work involved. However, there are some general areas that all human resources departments must address.

  • Compliance with regulations involving personnel and management practices. This is especially relevant for employees with special needs.
  • Coordinating health and safety activities. This involves supervising health and safety personnel, as well as coordination of activities on health and safety committees for employees.
  • Maintaining employee records. This can be of benefit for employees with special needs, those with illness or injury and employees with disabilities, or pregnant employees.
  • Ensuring employees are aware of HR policies. This is a big part of most human resources departments, and involves the orientation and training of new employees, transferred employees and promoted employees, as well as general announcements for the entire workforce.
  • Promoting safety culture. This involves not only training new employees on the safety rules of a workplace, but also offering continuing information to all employees on the latest safety guidelines and best practices for enjoying a safe workplace.

Using Health and Safety Programs to Foster Safer Workplaces

Generally speaking, a health and safety program involves formulating a method of best broadcasting the practices of a company’s health and safety programs to employees, in hopes of providing the safest workplace possible.

Most health and safety programs involve creation of a committee made up of representatives from different levels of management as well as those from the employee ranks. It’s usually best to have an equal number from both areas.

The committee is then tasked to meet regularly and develop elements of a health and safety program that will provide the most benefit to that company’s workers, not one that simply meets the compliance guidelines set forth in government regulations. Some of the areas addressed in a typical health and safety program include:

  • Management training
  • Scope and frequency of workplace inspections
  • Accident and injury incident investigation
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Organizational rules for workplace safety
  • Personnel communications
  • Off-the-job safety
  • Evaluation and improvement of the program

Some Basic Tips for Workplace Safety

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) oversees workplace safety for the nation, and since 1970 federal law has mandated that employers provide a safe working environment for all employees.

Keeping up with OSHA regulations is a top priority for most businesses, as is preparing for the possibility of more stringent standards. Some tips for staying ahead, culled from Express Employment Professionals, include:

  • Documenting all OSHA violations. Having an updated list of problem areas will help the company better focus on making improvements.
  • Updating safety programs. As mentioned above, one of the main commitments for a health and safety committee should be the monitoring and improvement of health and safety programs.
  • Keep all employees up-to-date on safety regulations. This includes training all new employees on safety procedures as well as keeping all employees current on the proper use of all equipment and any changes made to health/safety protocols.
  • Seeking expert consultation. It’s sometimes advisable to bring in an outside health and safety expert to evaluate your health and safety program and determine whether it is complete and current with best practices.

Whatever course a human resource manager decides to take in addressing workplace safety needs, it’s important to stay engaged in the matter and ensure the latest ideas are being incorporated into the company’s approach to all-around employee safety.

This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin writes about human resources certification for the University Alliance. She also covers topics like HR degree programs.